Beads of perspiration appear on your forehead as you realise that HR is on the other side of your phone conversation. The very pleasant and oddly chipper voice on the other side summons you to their offices. Your heart races as you slowly meander down the hallway running through the various wrongdoings you’ve made in your head. It’s a scary experience for any employee, so it’s no wonder there’s a lot of mystery and mythology surrounding this influential department.
But why human resources?
The way common mythology usually works is that you take something that is rooted in a certain and very specific truths and generalize the heck out of it until it reaches a larger than actual life status. Some myths defy the rules of nature, while others exist simply because they are hard to disprove.
Human resources is one of the most visible and influential departments in any organization. Yet, also one of the most mysterious, since no one is actually sure what it is they do. What little employees do know about HR operations is often taken out of context in workplace legends that usually paint HR in cold and negative colors.
So, we shouldn’t be too surprised when we encounter some common HR mythologies and spooky tales. Below, we’ve listed (and dispelled) 7 particularly common myths and corporate campfire stories.
1. HR is The Executioner
Probably the most common spooky HR myth, most employees consider the HR department as that place where you’re are magically transformed into an employee, then stripped of your status, and transformed into an unemployed human. It’s easy to think that it’s all human resource professionals do all day – sift through CVs and type up letters of dismissal, hiring and firing.
In reality, most HR professionals spend a lot more time in meetings with managers and executives defining HR needs and developing an HR strategy than they do recruiting and dismissing employees.
2. HR is judge and jury
When a new hire is discovered as a rotten apple (and quickly dismissed), the blame is usually tossed onto the people who handed this rotten apple their contract with the company. Human resources are also sometimes those to get the credit for hiring quality talent, albeit this credit is often taken by other departments or individuals in the company.
Smoke-and-mirrors are behind this common myth, which makes it easy to dispel. While the magical transformation to and from employee state is in the hands of human resources, hiring and firing decisions are almost always a mutual effort by team managers, executives, external candidate research service providers and, of course, the people working at the human resources department.
There is a very small fraction of cases where HR can be the exclusive decision-maker behind hiring and firing decisions. Horror scenarios in which an employee was violent toward another, or committed a crime while representing the organization. Spooky stuff.
3. HR is out to get you!
The scary stories around most organizational campfires teach us not to trust the HR boogeymen. They work for management, and are their disguised eyes and ears among the working folk. It has been told that any information shared with human resources can (and will) be used against you.
Usually, this myth is formed when a few employees have had bad experiences with those dreadful HR people. All it takes is one comment from an HR manager to strengthen the legend of the evil human resource witch or monster, trying to take your job from you.
4. Your HR has magical powers
The human resource department wants (and needs) to know if something is impairing your ability to do your job effectively or harming the company as a whole. But forget what you see on “Billions”, HR is not your shrink. It’s not a costume, it’s just how they dress.
The nightmare scenario of sexual harassment in the workplace is a good horrific example. When it happens, reporting it to HR is obviously necessary. However, don’t expect HR to provide legal advice or support in dealing with the potential trauma of such an unpleasant situation.
For most of us, there won’t be a company therapist around to ask “how it makes you feel” if work’s got you down or provide legal advice when you think you may need it. HR professionals, for the most part, are simply not equipped to do that.
In addition, HR are not bound to confidentiality and don’t just sit idly by, absorbing the information you share. They do something about it. That something might be a talk to your direct supervisor, or a public dismissal of the sexual harasser from the example above. So don’t expect them to keep your secrets.
5. HR will protect you from office controversy
Most workplaces try to keep it, well, professional. However, mixing in personal issues can be the spark that ignites a barrel full of controversy and splits everybody down the middle. Since HR is concerned with making sure employees don’t get in the way of themselves it’s easy to assume that when the s$%^ hits the fan – The HR director will know what to do.
The truth is that there aren’t too many HR superheroes out there. Just like you and me, your neighborhood HR director has a a lot on their plate and taking care of interpersonal issues shouldn’t have to be one of them. Your HR department is not a babysitter for adults who can’t play nice.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when it is appropriate and even necessary to send out an HR distress beacon. However, in most cases, a bit of leadership can go a long way in preventing the need in HR involvement altogether.
6. Human resources is all treats and no tricks
Being so close to the managerial plate has its perks, right?! Flexible work hours, getting home earlier than most, getting access to unique benefits and company monetary assets all sound like wonderful treats to get.
Sorry to break it to you, but handling payroll, recruitment, dismissals, and interpersonal relationships provides HR managers with no special privileges. No, they can’t give you a raise, or get your friend a job, and no, they don’t get special benefits. Also, if you think they work less hours and get to go home early, just ask their kids if they see their HR daddy during payroll runs. More often than not, HR workers are likely to be drowning in spreadsheets and employee review reports.
The sad fact that most of what HR does would not be considered exciting at best is one of the reasons for the next myth about human resources.
7. HR is the Debbie Downer of the workplace
The HR job description is similar to a witch’s brew. Except instead of bat tails and lizard tails you have stuff like compliance and employee reviews. No one likes being judged or receiving bad news. It just so happens that both fall under the HR job description. Obviously, this helps perpetuate the myth of HR as a kind of gloomy angel of death, always waiting to scythe down the next underperforming employee but that’s not entirely the case.
Human resources is garlic, silver bullet, and sunlight rolled into one
In truth, the human resource department is the one ensuring your pay is transferred on time and your employee rights are protected. It’s up to HR to make your workplace a comfortable and positive one, and they take this job seriously. So instead of perceiving them as a demon of doom, you should look at their angelic activities on your behalf.
Besides, who’s organizing that awesome office Halloween party? That’s right, the guys at HR. Do them a favor, and pretend to be scared by their party costumes. They deserve it.