There are few pleasures in life I enjoy more than a meaty conversation with individuals of differing viewpoints.
That said, there is one topic of conversation that drives me nuts, and it centers on this question—
Is HR an advocate for the employee or the employer?
I hate this question. It seriously sets my teeth on edge when I hear it.
The Question Seems Determined to Perpetuate a Divide
Who says that HR has to choose sides? Why is this an acceptable proposition? Where else in the organization is someone called to be an advocate of one group at the expense of the other? So what that employers and employees sometimes have conflicting interests—so do customers and employers. If a sales person is an advocate for his customer, is he operating outside the interests of his employer? Of course not. So, why do we keep asking this question of HR? Instead, why not ask a better question—what can HR do to balance the interests of employer and employee? Which brings me to …
The Question Gives HR an Excuse to Do a Crappy Job
You say, “Oh, that sounds good, but HR is paid by the employer, not the employee.” Yes, and the sales person is paid by the employer and not the customer. Again, does that give the sales person license to not solve the customer’s problem? On the flip side, if HR is all about “helping” employees, then there’s no reason for HR to thoughtfully consider the effects of any employee request. Can you use bereavement leave to attend the funeral of your ex-wife’s cousin’s husband? Why sure, employee! You have a need, and we’re here to help you! This is bad HR, people. Bad HR.
The Question Makes it Okay for Employers to Behave Irresponsibly
If HR’s job is simply to “take the employer’s side” then there’s no reason for the employer to consider any information from HR before making a decision. So go ahead employer and misclassify your employees, ignore that bully, promote that incompetent into another department, and pay Betty less for doing the same job as Joe. Apparently HR is just here to push your paper and effect your bad business decisions.
The Question Gives HR Detractors a Reason to Diss the Profession
Seriously HR, you don’t have the critical thinking skills, maturity, or business sense to solve a problem based on its own merits? You don’t have the wisdom or the courage to tell that misguided employee who says his boss is “harassing” him that his manager has every right and a responsibility to set and enforce standards? Or to tell your employer that the Director of Temper Tantrums in department X is causing a serious morale issue, and you know she’s brilliant, but folks and productivity are suffering?
Please, don’t get me wrong. At the end of the day, the employer pays the bills and the employer will decide the type of HR department it gets.
But my question is—what type of HR practitioner are YOU? Your employer doesn’t get to make that decision.
So forget about sides and instead recommend the very best solutions you can devise with the information you have on hand. And let knowledge, skill, compassion, wisdom, tact, and maturity guide your decision making—not some simplistic notion of "us" versus "them."