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As business leaders and HR professionals, we need to recognize how the HR function can be perceived and figure out what we may be doing that isn’t received how we really want it to be.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice. Joining me is my co-host and dear friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, a large scale HR firm that I’m an executive collaborator with.
In today’s episode, we want to talk about why do some people hate HR, and what, if anything, can we do about it? You know, it’s kind of hard to talk about people hating what I do, JoDee, I don’t know about you.
It is. But I’m glad we’re talking about this, because I think it’s a real issue.
I do. My entire career I’ve had people say, “Why did you go into HR?” You know, almost like it’s like going into the enemy camp. So my perspective is that, as business leaders and HR professionals, we need to recognize how the HR function can be perceived and figure out what we may be doing that isn’t received how we really want it to be. Maybe it’s that we need to communicate better, or respond differently, or even reimagine how we deliver services when needed.
So JoDee, as a recovering CPA yourself who became an HR practitioner and then built a thriving HR consulting practice, does it surprise you that people sometimes say, “Oh, God, I hate HR.”?
I guess I’m not surprised anymore, because I’ve heard it so many times. But I do hear it. And I hear lots of different reasons for it. Like, when someone says that, I always come back with “Why is that?” or “What happened that led you to say that?”
And one of the kinds of things that people… Why do they tell you that, is usually a personal experience that they had. That’s what I usually find. Somewhere along the line…. You know, in my 40 years doing HR work, when I hear things like “I don’t want to talk to my HR person,” or “What does HR really do?” or “Susan, you don’t act like the typical HR person.” I used to be baffled, you know, when people said that, but then I started to go with, I wonder what happened to them personally in their past that makes them feel that way. And it usually, when I uncover it or unpack it, you find that they met with an HR person who didn’t support them at a time they needed it, or there was a policy that they disagreed with and the HR person was the face of that policy.
Right. Yeah, I think, too – or even if people… if you broke a rule, for example, or want to take more time off, and the HR person is responsible for the policy, they might be viewed as the bad guy, when in fact, it’s… it’s company policy. But Susan, I have two sisters who consistently – I don’t think they say “I hate HR,” but they blow off HR, or they don’t like HR, or in their minds and in their experiences, HR has always been bad news for them. So I’m constantly defending us to them.
Oh, my gosh, oh, thank you for fighting the good fight. To prepare for this episode, we conducted a very informal survey with our close network who had worked in organizations large enough to have a professional HR staff. We purposefully did not ask anyone on that we’ve ever worked with for fear that they wouldn’t want to hurt our feelings if we had been the HR support to them. So here are the three questions that we asked. First one was, what are complaints you yourself have had or heard from others about HR? Second question, do you or the people you work with feel comfortable going to HR to discuss concerns? Why or why not? And number three, is there anything else that you think we should know, on this topic? So JoDee, I’d love for us to go back and forth, and let’s share what we heard.
So the first one was people shared bad experiences they personally had with the HR staff, just like my sisters. They felt like they were being lied to, shared confidential information, took management’s side on issues without investigating the real issue.
Yeah, that makes me sad if that was true in some cases, and you know, I have to admit that probably it has been true in some cases with HR people. I like to think it’s not the norm, but it could happen. Second thing we heard, HR is often the mouthpiece on bad news, layoffs, corrective actions, terminations, no raises, reduction in hours. JoDee, I bet you have been put in positions like this, as have I, that we were the people that needed to communicate something that really wasn’t very much fun.
Right. I think a lot of people have an expectation that HR is there to support the people. And, you know, I hope they do it, I hope all HR people do support them. But they’re an employee of the organization and they report, typically, to a C-suite or leader in the organization, and they have to support the company as well.
Yeah, I always say, as an HR person, if you could think of yourself, you don’t work for management, and you don’t work for the employee, you work for the company, the owner of the company. And that might be the board of directors, it might be an individual owner, but that if you allow managers to do wonky and bad things, you’re not serving that organization. And if you allow employees to break rules and do wonky things, you are not supporting that organization. So I think your point is really valid. It’s not that management’s right all the time. In fact, they’re not, and we are the ones who have to call it out sometimes. Yeah. Third thing we heard.
As organizations become bigger, multiple people told us they don’t know who their HR partner is and figure they may only meet them in a time when they have a problem or they are in trouble. If they could even find them. That one is disappointing, right? They don’t even know who to go to.
And I think that’s more and more common, the mega-size companies that are out there. I used to tell people that if I never met you at the place I worked, you must have had a great career. Means you did not have an HR problem, and you were not an HR problem.
Yeah, which really isn’t good, though, because you really do want people to know who… who’s in HR, because HR can help people. Yeah. Okay. So the fourth thing we heard, companies sometimes outsource their HR support. And I do think that’s very common. And sometimes it’s smart – it’s a really smart play. But some employees don’t like talking to strangers about their pay, their benefit, or other HR need. And the fact they know they’re talking to an outsourced company that may be somewhere else in the globe about something they feel very vulnerable about… It sometimes gets a bad rap, and certainly from people we heard, that is true sometimes.
Right. Another one is, HR seems rooted in quote, “We must follow the policy,” unquote. But a number of people believed exceptions were made, but just not for them. For example, off-cycle salary increases, or promotions without all the requirements being met. One respondent even said that HR hides behind the rules and then changes them when it suits them.
Yeah, I’m sure that’s a tough one, too. And maybe part of that – I mean, that can certainly happen, but could just be poor communication. Right? Same with going back to the previous one about not knowing who your HR person is, right? That’s a communications issue, maybe with HR or maybe just with other managers and leaders.
Yeah, no, that’s fair. Another one we heard, HR appears to spend lots of time with management and building strong relationships there, but not interested with – in the rank and file. This conflicts with the belief that you mentioned a bit earlier, JoDee, that many employees believe that HR should be approachable ombudsmen who make sure that management’s treating people fairly.
The next one, sometimes HR appears to sit on a problem and nothing gets resolved. Or as one respondent said, “They use a sledgehammer to kill a fly.” It makes employees reluctant to go to them. Sometimes HR might need to go back and talk to leadership or managers or…. But once again, they should be communicating what’s happening.
Exactly. And if a sledgehammer comes out to kill a fly, maybe that fly was really a swarm, and that employee didn’t realize that it was really a big deal. But who knows? A lot of it goes back to that communication. Alright. Another thing we heard, employees are often afraid to make a complaint in the areas of harassment or bullying for fear there will be retaliation, no matter what verbal assurances HR makes.
Yeah, that makes me sad too, because man, we take them very – I know you and I take allegations of harassment very, very seriously and no retaliation. But, you know, I can imagine that things slip through the cracks, people do get hurt. And in this case, this person may have seen something that, you know, proved that out for them.
Right. And the last one, people said HR tends to be focused on hiring, onboarding, and benefits, but not sure what else they do. They may feel as though when you ask them a question, they refer you back to your manager or outsourced payroll or benefit companies, and not helping them directly. I get that too.
Not all HR people know everything. In fact, I don’t know what human could. So they do have subject matter experts that might be outside the organization or somewhere else in the organization, or it’s – whatever you brought to them, it’s something maybe their manager and they need to work through. So I get it. I get the, if you’re going to HR, I think they’re going to solve a problem. That’s not going to be 100% possible 100% of the time. I don’t know about you, JoDee, but I’m depressed. Okay? The things we’ve heard, I do… they all ring true. And I’m sure for these people, that was true. We did hear from some that they realize that HR does work really hard, it’s just that perhaps they’re not empowered to do what needs to get done, or haven’t gotten the ongoing training that they need in order to be able to be as strong in every area as they need to be, or maybe they’re just not given the tools to do their job. So I think that even if people who don’t have a high opinion of HR, they don’t always necessarily blame that individual. Sometimes they blame, you know… blame the company or the system.
So I think we should stop for a moment and acknowledge that there are many, many people – and my guess is, our listeners are included in this – who love their HR support, right? They –
Or they may be HR support themselves, right? This episode is about where we have weaknesses, and so we want to be realists. Most of our episodes, we talk about the joy of the workplace, and we think HR’s front and center to that. But in this episode, we really want to talk about, you know, how do we get better? How do we acknowledge that there’s some negative feelings out there, and hopefully be able to, over time, prove people wrong, that we aren’t the bad guy, we are really there to hopefully help the organization. One respondent to our informal survey said that HR professionals who employees want to partner with are usually the ones who are empathetic, have good policy knowledge, and really do focus on the human of human resources. My guess is that really describes the people who are listening to this episode today.
There is a Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Why We Love to Hate HR.” There were two points made in this article as to why some of the angst about HR may exist. JoDee, why don’t you share the first one?
Organizations’ top executives tend to value HR when the US labor market is strong and demand for talent is high, but they tend to discount the need for them when the US economy is down and the labor market is slack. That is when retaining people is easier and talent is competing to find jobs. It is then where they may see HR as an unneeded overhead.
Yeah, I’ve certainly seen that during various cycles, and they don’t think they need HR, HR is kind of relegated to a back position. Yeah, I think that’s true. That’s hard if you… If you’re not always front and center and really part of a dynamic leadership team, it’s hard to have as much influence as you really need to have. The second thing this Harvard Business Review article mentioned is HR’s role is often to get already overworked managers and supervisors to follow procedures and processes without having any power or control over those managers and supervisors. Harvard Business Review calls it trying to manage with ambiguous authority. But to those on the receiving end, it feels like nagging meddling from an HR person.
Yeah. I can see that.
Me too. There are four things that this HBR article thinks HR needs to do to be viewed more positively. Number one, they say set the agenda. Don’t wait for senior leadership to tell you what to do. You have more expertise in people issues than they do, hands down. HR needs to be in front leading when it comes to recruiting, to layoffs, to flexible work creativity, to performance management, and equipping supervisors and managers with people leadership skills. Be a loud voice, be a persistent voice, set the agenda.
Right, I like it. Number two, focus on issues that matter in the here and now. Craft company-specific and industry-specific policies that respond to today’s challenges and change them when needed. Don’t stay stuck in a “that’s the policy” type of response. Ask yourself, are these policies still relevant or need to adapt? And boy, I know this is a problem, because we have done many employee handbooks over the years where the HR person or the leader of the company will say, “Oh, we have a manual, but we haven’t updated it for the last 10 years or 15 years.” And so there really are policies that just don’t make sense anymore.
Right. And that hurts the credibility of the organization and certainly of human resources.
Yeah, good point. Number three advice from the Harvard Business Review article is acquire more and better business knowledge. Understand how your organization ticks. How is it making money? Where are its expenses? And what are the risks and challenges the business is facing? Use HR analytics to help inform business decision-making in a meaningful way. Recently, we just did an episode on HR analytics. I would really encourage you to go back and take a listen to it, because I do think it brings you credibility and you bring, hopefully, facts to emotional situations sometimes.
Yeah, Susan, I’m actually teaching a class next week for HR business partners, and a big piece of that two-day training is on business acumen and learning to understand the business itself. What… you know, at least a general understanding of the financial statements and… and whatever else, so they can be better decision-makers knowing more about the company.
I think that’s very smart.
And then number four, which goes along with it a little bit, is to highlight the financial benefit of HR’s impact. If the work you are doing is aligned to the organization’s strategic objective, don’t assume people see the return on investment of your efforts. There is a saying, “there is no anonymous giving,” by strong HR functions. Talk about how your reducing time to hire has increased productivity that lead to increased quarterly profits, and many other examples of that. Susan, what other advice do you have for HR professionals who are listening to this podcast?
Yeah, I think it’s really important that we be very visible in our businesses. And that means showing up and it’s being active with all levels. I know one of the complaints we’ve heard was that they spent all their time – HR spends all their time with management. I think it is important that we volunteer that we are getting to know employees at all levels. And granted, many of you, you know, have… you’re support for 800, 1000 people, maybe, in your part of the organization that you support, but you can be a force. And I just think you have to show up. If you have a cafeteria, you need to eat in the cafeteria so people get to see you and you get to see a load of people. And if you get a chance to sit with different people and network, I just think that’s so valuable. What about you, JoDee? What other ideas might you have?
Well, you know, I’m a big fan of education. So commit to ongoing education so that you can bring current and innovative thinking to issues and policies. Now, again, we’re speaking to the choir a little bit because you are listening to this podcast and gaining more education from it. But there are so many webinars these days, many of which are free, as well as conferences, and so many other learning opportunities. So stay on top, take advantage.
I agree. And I guess finally, I’ll just say, I think it’s important we be upfront with every employee about who you work for. The fact is, as an HR professional, you have a real responsibility to make sure your workplace, if not joyful, that it’s fair, it’s free of discrimination, and that it’s compliant. And in order to do that, you need to make sure that management knows you’re not their tool and employees know that you’re not 100% just their advocate, you’re an advocate of this being a great place to work.
Right. Susan, we have a listener question today. The question is, “I’ve been an HR professional for a while, and I’ve had a great career so far, but I’m considering a pivot to part-time HR work, but I’ve had a difficult time finding meaningful part-time HR roles. Do you have any tips?”
Yeah, it’s a great question because I do know at different points in our lives, part-time work can be just really what we need, and I certainly felt that way when I was raising kids for a period of time. And I also, after I retired from a corporate role, I want to keep working, but I want to do it part time. So what I would do, number one, I would try to build a business case for where I was about the role I have, how I could do it part-time or potentially job share, meaning that we find somebody else – if I want to work three days a week, find somebody else I will help you select, help you train, who can work the other two days, if it needs to be a five day a week job. So I always start where you are, because you’ve got that credibility, institutional knowledge, that could be a real win-win. If that doesn’t work, that’s just not a possibility, then I would set up alerts on all the job boards that make sense for me. I would put out alerts for any part-time HR role, so that I have a chance to see what’s popping. If people are advertising part-time roles, I want to know about it. I would post my desire to do this in an HR Facebook group, if you happened to be part of an HR Facebook group. I would also tell everybody I know that I was in the market to do part-time HR work. You never know who knows who. Get the word out there. I would look at my local SHRM chapter. I would, first of all, see if they do post roles, because they may be posting jobs. And I’d also try to attend meetings and get the word out there that I was in the market for a part-time HR role. I would research HR consulting firms in my city, wherever you happen to be located, to see if they ever bring on part-time or contract HR people to help them with projects or initiatives that they just might not have the bandwidth to do. In fact, that’s how I met JoDee. I met with her because I knew she had a consulting practice and wondered if she ever brought on a contractor to help on specific type of assignments. So I think it’s a really good way. I did it with a number of firms, and I have done a number of different unusual types of subcontracting with them. And then finally, you could always start your own HR consulting practice. It has been a joyful ride for me and certainly for JoDee who has blown hers up to a mega consulting practice, and me, I’m just a single shingle, that you can really have fun, I think, doing your own consulting. And I don’t know what your specialty is, listener, in HR, but my guess is there’s gonna be organizations who don’t have what you have, and they may not want to bring somebody in to do just that work, but they’d be open to having you do it so many hours a week, a month, or a year. JoDee, any other ideas that are not mentioned?
Yes. And I will say, too, just in our Purple Ink consulting firm, we have almost as many part-time people as we do full-time. And we also have a lot of collaborators, many of those who work part-time as well, including you. But another thought I had, too, was to think about a specialty that you might have or are more interested in having. And maybe there’s a company out there, it could be a large company or it could be a smaller one, who maybe is overloaded with recruiting or they’re overloaded with employee relations or whatever the topic might be. But yeah, they’re not really ready to commit to a full-time person. So maybe you could serve in that specialist role for them, and be just what they need in part time.
Yeah, fair enough. So JoDee, it’s time for in the news. A February 3, 2023 indeed.com article entitled “11 Meeting Etiquette Rules You Should Follow at Work” caught our attention. We hear from listeners often about the podcast episode we did entitled “Meeting Skills” that we launched back in 2018. We thought now that it’s five years later, sharing current information could be interesting. Here’s Indeed’s 11 rules. JoDee, do you want to start us out?
Yes. So the first one is be punctual. Right? I mean, that’s true for most things in life, but don’t waste a group of other people’s time. Just be on time.
Yeah, it’s so embarrassing for the individual. Embarrassing when it has happened to me beyond my control, I hate walking in late. I just hate it. So I like to be a few minutes early, get myself organized. Yeah, be punctual. Number two, come prepared. If an agenda has been set out, take the time to review it, know what we’re going to talk about. Bring pen, bring paper, or if you’re gonna bring your computer, if that’s the norm there that you can be taking notes or whatever, you know, come ready to really work.
You know, that one in particular I’ve talked about in training for meeting skills, is that we judge the leader of the meeting based on what they do or don’t do or what our bias is, but really, the individuals in the meeting should come just as prepared as the leader of the meeting. And when they don’t, that makes the meeting less engaged or frustrating for other people.
Number three is dress professionally. Ooh, that’s an interesting one which so many people don’t do anymore.
And I don’t want to ever tell people what to wear. In fact, if anyone ever, to this day, will ask me to draft a dress code policy, I bow away. So sorry, don’t do those. Because they bring out such emotional angst. It’s like a no-win. So this is about self-monitoring. Going to a meeting, think about what you’re wearing. You want to make sure that people know that you respect them. And if you’re wearing pajama bottoms and flip flops and a T shirt that’s maybe got some stains on it, you might be comfortable, but you’re sending a signal to everyone else that you really don’t respect their time. So JoDee, I’m not going to ask you what you’re wearing right now, because you look like a million bucks to me.
Well, that’s all you need to know then.
Number four, speak loud enough. You know, we talk about loud talkers, but there’s also quiet talkers where no one can hear, and both can be off-putting either way.
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. I recently, someone asked me if I’d be interested in coaching someone who’s a loud talker. And my first question is, do you think there’s a hearing impairment? I mean, do you think this is just a stylistic thing, or do we think there’s a medical issue behind it? Because you want to be sensitive. However, if it’s just a stylistic thing, I definitely think it’s something that we all need to self-control. And if you tend to be somebody who speaks very softly… like, I have a very soft voice, but I do find I work really hard at projecting, I want to make sure people can hear me. So number five, actively listen. And of course, that leads to your being able to participate. So if your mind starts to wander, you need to stop. Celeste Headlee, who wrote the book “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation,” she cited in there a study that we can speak about – the average American – about 225 words per minute, but we can listen at 450 words per minute. So the fact is, our ability to process what we’re hearing is so much faster than anybody could speak. That’s why our mind wanders, and we start thinking about what am I going to fix for dinner and things like that. We owe it to the person speaking in a meeting to shut that down, and focus. So you have to actively listen.
That is fascinating to me. I’ve never heard that statistic before. Number six, take turns speaking. This can be tough, especially if one person is trying to dominate the meeting or is speaking too much out of turn. So maybe jot notes to yourself if you think of something you want to say but it’s not your turn yet. Then you don’t forget about it, but you also allow others to share their input as well.
That is a technique I will use. When someone says something really interesting, I make a note to myself so that I don’t forget it – because I will forget it – so that when it’s my turn, I can go back to it, rather than shouting it out. Yeah. Number seven is have respect for the agenda. So if you’re a participant in the meeting and there’s an agenda, and there’s something you think is really important that’s more important than what’s on the agenda, it’s important that you say, “Hey, I realize this is not on the agenda, and I would love to be able to talk about this now, but if not, can we put a… stick a pin in it and make sure that we get to it?” I think that so often in meetings when someone thinks they’ve got something that is just more important than what the meeting was called for, they try to repurpose it midstream. I think that’s not good etiquette.
Number eight, ask questions at the appropriate time. That is, don’t interrupt, but don’t save everything for the end either. If time runs out, follow up in a text, an email, call them, go see them. Right? But that goes back a little bit to the comment about taking turns, right? You want to have everyone given a chance to participate.
Fair enough. Number nine is be attentive to nonverbal clues. You know, avoid… if you tend to be a person who kind of taps your fingers on the desk or fidgets or swivels – sometimes that can be very soothing, to be swiveling – rustling papers. Okay, humming. I hope that no one’s humming in the meeting. But, know what, Indeed puts it in the article, it must happen. Or if you’re using your keyboard because you’re taking notes, recognize that that can be noisy and distracting. So be attentive to anything that you might be doing that could really cause others from not being able to focus.
Number 10 put away technology and fight that nomophobia. That is such a tough one. You know, I’ve seen people do that different ways, to say turn your cell phone in at the door, don’t bring your computer into meetings, or just turn your phones on silent, but you can still have them with them. But they are… I admittedly, I can be really bad at that, start to check on my email or look at my Facebook if I’m bored with a meeting. And, yeah, I think – I like to take notes on my computer. I was actually just at a conference last week, and I was taking notes on my computer, but because I was doing that, then when I would see an email pop up or think of something else, right, let’s flip off and go back and forth between apps. So the best way is really to ask people, “Hey, give me 45 minutes, give me an hour. And let’s focus while we’re here.”
Yeah, I have to believe that the… what is accomplished in that meeting is far better when you have everybody’s mind on the same topic. Yeah. And it’s not easy to do. Well, the 11th and final one in this Indeed article is eat and drink appropriately. So their suggestion is, you know, having water, coffee, soda, something to drink makes sense, because people sometimes need it just to keep their voice going or their throat clear. But check before you bring food. Ask the person who’s hosting the meeting, “would it be alright if I bring some food?” or “it’s gonna be during lunch hour, would it be alright, if I eat?”. If – especially if it’s a virtual meeting, it’s really not a good excuse, “I’m going to turn off the camera because I’m going to be eating.” Then it just – It’s rude, right? And I also think in person to a meeting, bringing in a bag of food with you, unless it’s been invited, or unless you’ve checked out ahead of time that maybe you’ve got a need, that you’ve a sugar issue that in your body that if you don’t eat something certain times of the day, then that’s a perfect reason to ask. But short of that, you just want to make sure you leave the meeting space as nice as you found it and that the people during that meeting don’t feel like you are… that they’re second tier. You know, that eating isn’t your first priority here, being part of this meeting is. JoDee, I don’t know, you host so many meetings, do you have a policy as it relates to food?
I’m usually pretty easy going on that. Especially, I do a lot of lunch meetings, so I always say please feel free to eat while you’re here. But you know, some people eat loud or just a crinkling hamburger wrapper, right, can sound like a bomb when it’s right next to your audio. So one other thing, though, that I’m surprised wasn’t on here, you just briefly talked about it, but is to ask people to share their video screen. Now I’ve been in large… like a webinar or something where they’re really isn’t going to be any talking, they might text in the chat, but where the leader would be on camera and not all of the other participants would be for, you know, a really big group. But I think when you’re on a Zoom call, I want to see the person. And if you’re if you’re one that doesn’t want to be seen, then set up a phone call instead.
Yeah, I’m with you. And it is awkward when there’s somebody just refuses to turn on their camera. Yeah, it’s just awkward. So yeah, I’m glad you added that one. There should be 12. So if Indeed is listening, I think you ought to add that 12. It’s funny, as we were going through these 11, I have to think for our listeners, just like us, this all feels like common sense, right? There’s no brain surgery being done here, this is common sense. But I think that in some places, there’s going to be meeting participants who this is not common sense for. And so I thought maybe you’d like to share this article – February 3, 2023 on indeed.com – or maybe post it in some of your meeting rooms about what are the norms for you, what are, in your meetings, what’s the etiquette or the ground rules that we’re all going to abide by. And it certainly makes it easy… easier than having a facilitator have to call people out. Let’s go ahead and this is how we’re all going to operate our meetings.
Right. I like it. Well, thanks for listening today and make it a JoyPowered® day.
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