Why Do So Many People Loathe HR?

I am an HR professional who has worked in the Human Resources field in different roles for over eighteen years. I have been an HR Generalist, Senior HR Generalist, and HR Manager in the manufacturing, contract manufacturing, machining, and non-profit health care industries. I have practiced all HR functions including talent acquisition, performance management, training, coaching, management, employee relations, benefits, and compensation.

Whenever there is an interesting article about job searches or harassment or employee relations, etc., I like to read the comments section. It amazes me how negative the comments tend to be about HR professionals. Comments like, “HR is clueless, they do nothing, why are they even in the company, they are idiots, and on an on.” I realize every company is different and some company leadership truly partners with HR and they are valued. I have worked in those companies. However, I have also worked in companies where HR is not respected.

I will tell you that HR is a tough job, and not a job “that a monkey could do.” (Another comment I have read) We have the responsibility of balancing the business needs (who pays our salary, by the way) with advocating for employees. For every termination I am involved in, I have also prevented a termination behind the scenes where I supported the employee. No one sees this, though. Did you know that I (and any of my colleagues, I am sure) agonize for days or weeks when we know a termination or position elimination is coming? I don’t sleep well, I worry about the affected person who will soon be losing their livelihood, I worry whether the meeting will turn violent, etc. I dread the look of absolute hatred to be directed at me while I am covering the benefits and exit information. Oh, and by the way, employees mistakenly believe that HR is the one who makes the termination decisions. I can assure you that we do not have that kind of power. We may influence the decision but that final determination rests solely on the manager of the person.

We are the “therapists” of many different people, even though we are not trained in this field. We listen to people’s family, work, and personal issues and offer support and encouragement. Some days, we may have our own personal problems, but we still stay strong for the people we support. Who does HR go to with their problems? There are not many options.

HR is constantly in the limelight. I don’t mean that in a special way, either. We have to walk a very fine line with what we say and do as we are always being judged by how we handle situations. Every day is different and we have to constantly think on our feet and come up with a solution to a crisis that we likely have never dealt with before. Jimmy and Tom just got in a fist fight on the production floor, Jason had an outburst in a meeting, Sally made a discriminatory comment, our new hire just walked out, there was a fire in the building, etc.

Many people don’t think of us as real human beings with lives of our own. I am referred to as “HR” and not by my actual name. We are people, not functions. We tend to be kind of like pariahs. “Oh, I better not say that because HR is here.” People don’t want to sit with us at company functions because they are fearful. Guess what? If you actually come to visit HR and say “Hello,” and get to know us, we are usually pretty good people. If you only visit when there is a problem, you will never build that relationship of trust with us.

Regarding staffing, HR is often blamed for not knowing who is qualified and passing on candidates who think they are perfect for the job. There could be many reasons for passing up candidates. Many times, the salary expectation is not in our budget. It is wonderful that you have over 20 years of experience, but if the job only requires 3–5 years, then the pay coincides with that. So, you will be passed. If you have grammar or spelling errors, you may be passed. If you work at a company that we know is not a culture fit for us, we will pass. I personally have read every single resume that has come in for all the jobs I was recruiting for, so it’s not some machine rejecting you. There is a reason and I know what our hiring manager is looking for. Oh, and it kills me to have to make that call and let a candidate know that they were not chosen for a job they had interviewed for. I would much rather be giving them a job offer.

Some people feel that when they make a complaint, it is not handled and HR does nothing. I can assure you that I personally conduct investigations and try to get to the bottom of inappropriate actions or behaviors. However, the bottom line is that if there are no witnesses and we have a he said/she said situation, we can document but our hands are tied as to actions we can take. The reality is that sometimes, people have agendas and stories are inflated or made more dramatic. How would you feel if you were on the other side of an accusation and leadership decided to just terminate you without adequate evidence?

I guess what I am trying to say here is that HR can be a very demanding, emotionally draining role. We do our best to support employees, but again, have to support the business side who pays us. My advice is to get to know your local HR professional, say “hello,” and spend time with them. Then, if a situation comes up, you will feel much more comfortable having that frank discussion and asking for support. Give us a chance and you will find that most of us love what we do and really do care about the employees and managers that we partner with daily. We are just trying to do our best just like you are.