… the HR Minion. Because even minions have opinions. And giggles.

When to go to HR

I’ve blogged before about how HR is often perceived with an odd mixture of wariness and trepidation by most employees. It’s a hard perception to counter when we are associated with disciplinary actions and terminations. And most of the time I try to focus on ways to challenge those perceptions and show employees and managers alike that we aren’t really all that scary.

Unfortunately, sometimes I hear from employees that they had legitimate concerns but didn’t feel comfortable talking to HR about it, or even that they had the ability to ask HR questions. That makes me sad. And frankly rather frustrated, not at the employee, but at the fact that if they had simply come to me, I would have been able to make a difference. I makes me feel like I’m not doing my job because if I was, they would have come to me instead of being afraid to.

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No matter how you feel about HR, there are times in your employment that speaking to HR is critical; times where not doing so can lead to financial, legal, emotional, or other serious consequences.

So here are some examples of when you need to speak to HR:

1. You are being harassed or witness someone being harassed. And no, I don’t want to hear the excuse that “You don’t want to get anyone in trouble” or “I don’t think anyone will believe me”. If you or another employee are being harassed let me be clear that the behavior will not just go away or stop unless you say something. Bullies don’t just get bored and move on. HR’s goal is never to just fire someone, our goal is to stop the behavior so that we can all move forward as professionals in a mutually respectful workplace. Yes, sometimes that means termination, and yes, sometimes it just means a stern warning. But in the end, if you aren’t an advocate for yourself and for others, then nothing will change and you are making it easier for this to happen to others.

2. You are confused about your benefits or your paycheck. I’ve had employees come to me months after they lost their spouses benefit coverage and ask if they can get on the company’s plan. I’ve had employees receive incorrect pay for several paychecks before they let me know about it. I’ve also had employees assume they were somehow denied health insurance because nothing was ever taken out of the paycheck. I get it, benefits and payroll are very confusing and sometimes these are mistakes that should never have happened. But HR makes mistakes like everybody else and even though I work in HR benefits/payroll even confuses me at times. But that is all the more reason why employees should seek out HR’s advice right away when something doesn’t seem right or if you are confused! So many problems can easily and quickly be resolved when brought to our attention, and often time is not on your side, so waiting only leads to more grief and problems.

3. You are going through problems in your personal life or with your health and it’s starting to impact your job. Life is hard and it has a bad habit of stirring up trouble at the worst possible times. I don’t know anyone who has not had a personal issue or health issue at some point in their life interfere with their job. Now, I know that when things are tough your first instinct may be to shut down and put up a “normal” front at work, especially if you are a private person. But that is often the most important time to start reaching out for help, and HR is sadly an overlooked resource. A lot of companies have confidential employee assistance programs that offer a wide range of free or reduced cost services all the way from legal advice to emergency child care. And it’s always better to speak to HR about leave policies or FMLA in the beginning of dealing with a health issue, instead of missing a lot of time at work and get written up for it. A lot of companies are more reasonable than you might think, and they would rather work with an employee than fire them when life starts getting in the way. But they can’t do anything if they don’t know.

4. You don’t agree with or understand a company policy/decision. Now, this is a tricky one and HR may or may not be able to help depending on the situation. Sometimes decisions are made based on information only management knows that for some reason or another (usually legal or financial) they cannot communicate it to their employees, now or in the future. However, sometimes decisions are made and there may be an assumption that employees understand why, wouldn’t have questions about, or that management didn’t even realize that they should have communicated. Hey, it happens. And that is why it is always better to come to HR and ask whenever you are unsure of something. Don’t simply make assumptions or remain confused. Sometimes we not be able to give you answers, but you’ll never know unless you try.

5. This one is for the managers out there: If you have an employee who is causing problems or experiencing a problem like those outlined above, do not try to handle it yourself. It’s a little crazy how often I hear from managers about issues with their employees weeks or months after they started. It’s scary when you hear about a serious issue, such as the employee complained about being harassed last week but they are only telling you now, and only because they “wanted you to be aware” of what they did to resolve it. I know managers are often skeptical about HR and sometimes it is a trust/control issue, but managers have to actively partner with HR. Whenever managers try to handle things themselves they are putting the whole company at risk because they may not have all the information they need to ensure that the right action is taken. Best intentions don’t count for much when you are standing in front of a judge trying to defend your decisions.

Now, none of the above is meant as a chastisement. I understand why people are hesitant to come to HR. Some HR departments suck and are downright useless. But good HR is first and foremost a resource, for managers and employees both, that is here to support you. And you if you don’t at least try to go to them for help you are likely the one who will suffer the most. You owe it to yourself to try and you might just be surprised by what you get in return.

2 Responses | Add your Own

  • 1 lizi :

    Hi Shauna, You are reflecting most of my thoughts. Great article indeed. lizi

  • 2 josh :

    I think part of the issue often comes down to two inter-related items

    1. People dont know what they dont know. Believe it or not, some people don’t even know that HR is the place they are supposed to take certain concerns, and….
    2. The fear of looking stupid. People often have preconceived notions of what they should already know….and if they know they don’t know something, why would they want to highlight their ignorance. A catch -22 no doubt.