When HR becomes the workers’ enemy

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

We’d like to know your opinion about the style of our human resource department in dealing with workers. It is excessively pro-management does not sufficiently look after the interests of workers. As an example, new employees are required to spend a total of nine months before they assume regular employment status. The first three months are spent for supposed training, in addition to six months of probationary employment. Rather than attend formal classroom training, the employees are required to study on their own, pass a written examination and submit a progress report to HR. How do we manage this kind of work environment that appears to be against the workers’ interests? — White Lily.

The earliest recorded rant by people against HR was in 2005 when an article, “Why We Hate HR,” was published by Fast Company: “After close to 20 years of hopeful rhetoric about becoming ‘strategic partners’ with a ‘seat at the table’ where business decisions that matter are made, most human-resources professionals aren’t nearly there. They have no seat, and the table is locked inside a conference room to which they have no key. HR people are, for most practical purposes, neither strategic nor leaders,” according to the article written by a team of Fast Company’s researchers and writers.

The article continues to ask a lot of intriguing questions: “Why are annual performance appraisals so time-consuming — and so routinely useless? Why is HR so often a henchman for the chief financial officer, finding ever-more ingenious ways to cut benefits and hack at payroll? Why do its communications — when we can understand them at all — so often flout reality?

“Why are so many people processes duplicative and wasteful, creating a forest of paperwork for every minor transaction? And why does HR insist on sameness as a proxy for equity?”

The article is based on a survey conducted by the Hay Group and also includes a quote from an unnamed management professor who says: “The best and the brightest don’t go to HR.” Ouch! But, of course, anyone can always argue that the article is based on the American context. OK, fine, whatever.

Judge for yourself. If you want to discover the state of HR in the Philippines, you only have to check the Facebook page of many HR groups. It can give you a whole lot of ideas how today’s Filipino HR managers are showing their worst side in managing their workers, ranging from absurdity to insanity. It’s an unfair generalization as it does not represent the majority of HR professionals. And so, how do you manage HR when it becomes the tool of management oppression? Take the time to explore the following strategies:

One, establish rapport with HR even if you hate. It’s difficult to feign friendship with people you don’t like, but that’s the only way to go if only to understand their emotional and mental processes. Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” said you “must know yourself and know the enemy” as well. With that, you can remain confident that in due time, your “enemy” will have sheathed his sword to accommodate you in some way.

Two, remove your prejudice against HR. Don’t perpetuate the idea that they’re difficult people. Sure, there are many HR people who are troublesome. Just the same, try to understand where they are coming from. Listen for what’s not being said. They too are reasonable human beings who have no option but to follow top management direction even if illogical, immoral, and at times recklessly illegal.

Three, exercise patience when listening to HR’s position. Show interest by establishing eye contact and use non-verbal signals such as nodding and smiling to test HR’s sincerity. It’s true that probationary employment is limited only to six months. However, it can be extended subject to the consent of the workers and management. Note also that a training program is not limited to a classroom set-up but includes on-the-job training.

Last, report the company’s illegal activities to the labor department. Do this only as a matter of last resort and you’re not satisfied with the action taken by HR. You can file an anonymous complaint with authorities who can send labor inspectors to validate your company’s malpractice. When you do this, don’t use the facilities of the organization like email or telephone in reporting the matter. Better if you can request someone outside of the organization to do the reporting.

Ideally, HR must wear several hats as suggested by HR guru David Ulrich, depending on the situation: As a business partner, administrative champion, change agent and employee champion, not necessarily in that order. However, in most cases, HR can easily become the unwilling tool of corrupt management. HR people allow themselves to be used because their bread and butter is on the line.

Once again, don’t generalize. Just like everyone, HR people desire to work to the best of their abilities. If you have an issue against a certain management policy, discuss your position in a professional, intellectual manner. Don’t be emotional. I know it’s difficult. But that’s the only way if only to come out with a logical position.

ELBONOMICS: You can win a difficult battle without using swords and spears.


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