HR in the contemporary workplace

Yup, I’m pretty tough on human resources offices. No doubt this orientation is grounded in the shared stories of so many workplace bullying targets who report being abandoned or set up by HR. Rare is the bullying account that expresses appreciation for HR’s intervention.

However, I fully concede that HR often is in a difficult place, caught in the cross fires of organizational politics. It’s why I’ve posed the question of whether an ethical HR officer can survive in a lousy workplace.

It’s also the case that ethical, pro-active HR practices typically fall under the radar screens. Why? Because if HR is doing its job in a good workplace, then we’re highly unlikely to hear about it!

In any event, here are past posts that emphasize HR situations and actions when things aren’t going so great:

1. “Workplace bullying is bad for business” (2012) — Linking to a Worcester Business Journal op-ed I authored that discusses HR’s role in dealing with workplace bullying situations.

2. Are HR professionals bullied at work? (2011) — Unfortunately, independently-minded HR officers are potential bullying targets, too.

3. Quiet cover-ups (2011) — When HR is complicit in covering up bad behavior.

4. The “exit parade” as a worker termination protocol (2011) — All that’s missing is the firing squad (pun intended).

5. Can an ethical HR officer survive at a bad company? (2010) — A very challenging question.

6. SHRM opposes workplace bullying legislation (2010) — Disappointing. Very disappointing.

7. Don’t assume that HR is your buddy (2010) — HR plays a vital role in the workplace, but workers should not mistakenly regard HR as their ally.

8. HR as grim reaper (2009) — Being the terminator can come with costs.

9. “HR was useless” (2009) — One of this blog’s most popular posts, placing a common worker complaint against the purposes & loyalties of HR.

7 responses

  1. Thanks for this post and the compilation of your previous posts that deal with this topic. I did not work with HR at all while I was going through my evaluation for tenure (which is when the bullying really manifested itself in my case). HR became involved when I filed a grievance with my state’s Div. of Human Rights. When a union rep. called HR about something related to my case (a file that was taken from the HR office) HR referred to me as “your [union] member” — not “Lori,” not “our employee.” My identity as a very good, loyal employee was stripped.

    • Wow. Your situation really highlights what happens when an adversarial rather than collaborative approach is taken. Where is the space for a mutually beneficial solution when the first thing that happens is positioning to take sides in an argument/ lawsuit.

      Individuals and facts are discredited in favour of the “goal”…to WIN! (with the unquestioned assumption that the “other” must therefore necessarily be vanquished). And my guess is that you’re the one feeling the paranoia that permeates the proceedings.

      • I left *a lot* out of my narrative. A lot of conversations took place between myself, union officers, administrators in the attempt to ‘right’ a wrong. I hoped and hoped that a solution would be negotiated. Administrators told my supporters that “my case was not over,” leading me to believe that my situation could change for the better. Filing a grievance was absolutely not the first thing that happened in my case. In fact, I was scared to death to do it. It was a last resort. Union officers never once suggested I talk to HR about my situation — they knew doing so would not help my case. When HR did become involved, HR sided with administration.

  2. More often than not, in cases of workplace bullying, the bully is the target’s manager. HR work for management and see protecting the reputation and covering up management’s wrong doing as part of their job. In fact at times HR take a leading role in the campaign of bullying and harassment towards an employee targeted by management. The case of HR at Kingston University is such an example (see

  3. I recently read a February 19, 2012 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, about the author’s HR runaround at a school where she’d briefly taught. I’m convinced she was truthful, so far as one’s opinions and recollections can be. The title was, “Bucking the Knowledge Factory”. It’s worth a look.

  4. Interesting info as always. SHRM had a 3/5/2012 article on its site stating that the findings of the survey Workplace Bullying conducted online in May 2011 with 401 SHRM members found that 27 percent of HR professionals themselves have been victims of bullying.

  5. At the moment I have no faith in the existance of ethical HR officers. I was severly bullied by my manager, when HR got involved they just joined in with the bullying. I learnt vey quickly that HR is only there to protect the organisation and is not there to protect the worker. The HR officers that I had the misfortune to deal with were nasty and cruel. This is not the first time I have come up against horrible HR people, but it is the last time I trust anyone from HR.

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