I am the HR Specialist in an office of about 50. Most of us have been here for years.

In March a new company took over our office however, the only thing that changed was the boss. He is an expert in our line of work but has horrendous management skills.

A friend and colleague is having an extra hard time with him. Communication is non-existent. He will change policy on a whim and show up to her department meetings and contradict what she is saying. She does not know what’s going on even in things that will directly affect her and her department yet another supervisor and another employee (not a supervisor or in my friends department) know every decision before he announces it. He schedules long meetings for no reason, and she resents taking time away from critical work for useless meetings.

Years of working with friends has forced me to set up friend time versus work time. I allow my friends to gripe to me “off the record” especially because it helps most of them work things out by having a neutral sounding board. I secretly use my HR mind tricks to help them see the other side.

This friend has made clear that her gripes are off the record however, her attitude is starting to affect my work. Also, I see this leading up to her quitting and I am torn between her wanting to be happy (if it means quitting) and knowing that she is the best at her job and it would hurt our company if she quits.

I think this may be more personal than HR but I need help figuring out what to do. Do I put her request aside and seriously talk with the boss about this? Do I talk to the corp. HR manager about morale in our overall office? I see the issues with his management style but everyone else seams to be adjusting and I have never heard of an HR policy on crappy managers.


See, this is why I have no friends at work. (Okay, to be honest, I do have friends at work–it’s just that they are all fellow HR people.)

This is what I would do if I were you. The next time she complains you say, “Cheryl,” given that her name is Cheryl, “We’ve been friends for a long time, but I am also the Human Resources person here and I represent the company. My job is to make sure that the people and the company are on the same page.

“From what you’ve told me, there seems to be a very serious disconnect between your boss and the company’s health. In the past I’ve promised you that I would keep everything off the record, but it’s reached the point that I can no longer do that. From now on, work related discussions are going to have to be on the record. I’m not doing my job if I allow this type of thing to go on, unchecked.”

She may, actually, be relieved. She may be furious. It’s hard to guess that sort of thing in advance. (Impossible, actually. Anyone who spends any amount of time in an employee relations capacity will tell you that you can be absolutely sure of the reaction that will come out of someone’s mouth and then the person will have a very different reaction.)

The problem is in being nice. Nice is good. I like nice. But you have a duty to the company. So, if you have to choose between being nice and doing your job, you have to do your job.

Think of it this way–you actually labeled your e-mail to me “hostile work environment” and then noted that that wasn’t actually the case. You knew that I would know that the phrase “hostile work environment” doesn’t refer to angry bosses, but to an environment that violates Title VII protections (race, gender, etc). But, what if it was a “hostile work environment”? What if this boss was sexually harassing your friend? Legally you’d have “duty to act” or your company’s liability would shoot through the roof. What would you do then?

Of course, you’d act. You’d be a fool not to.

This stinks. It really does. It’s definitely what makes the perception of “evilness” in HR. But Human Resources people are there for the company. Refer your friend to your Employee Assistance Program if she needs someone to vent to. But remind her that all future work related conversations are “on the record.”

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10 thoughts on “Why I Have No Friends

  1. Excellent post about a difficult situation! The sexual harassment comparison is an apt one.

    A good friend will understand the position she’s putting you in if you explain it to her. She may not like it, but she should at least make an effort to understand why she’s creating a conflict for you.

  2. Wow … maybe you have no friends at work because you’re the kind of “friend” who puts her work above her personal relationships.

  3. My first boss in HR gave me excellent advice about this, and I’ve passed it along to every person who’s worked for me. He told me that if I was smart I’d be friendly with people in the facility where I worked, but that I’d not become friends with them. He said that if I stayed there long enough, nearly everyone’s name would come across my desk and I’d be asked to make some kind of judgment about them, either on a disciplinary type situation, a promotion, a raise……… something. He said that these judgments were hard enough to get right when you didn’t have any personal involvement with the person, but that they would became REALLY difficult for me if a friend was involved. I tried to follow his advice for my entire career, and the few times I didn’t, it seemed to always come back and bite me.
    Keep your friends at work to other HR people and you may miss some friendships, but you’ll save yourself (and others) a lot of grief. As an HR person what you’re really getting paid for is your judgment. Try to minimize the things that will cloud it.

  4. This is along the lines of what Mike said:

    My former VPHR had a philosophy that HR should have no friends outside of HR.

    I did not pay much attention since HRIS has no friends anyway.

    Then I truly grasped what she was saying when one day I received a list of people who needed a severance calculation for an upcoming bloodbath.

    It would have been quite an ethical dilemma if I had friends on that list.

  5. This is also an issue for almost every supervisor who winds up supervising people he or she was “friends” with. I’ve seen it work. But I’ve seen problems in two specific situations. There’s trouble if the boss or HR person wants to be everybody’s friend. Then he or she will make some poor choices. And there’s the worker who, under the guise of friendship, is seeking special treatment.

  6. Great advice.

    The only thing I would add is to see if others are having the same problems she is. There is a chance that her friendship with her is allowing her to speak freely when the others who are dealing with the same thing are too afraid to speak up. I would strongly suggest that Cheryl make a formal complaint or whatever the proper channels are regarding the manager’s behavior. If she’s that miserable, she’s probably not the only one, given the description of his behavior.

  7. You have no friends because ALL HR people are evil. You can’t talk about them without using “bad” language to describe what bad people they are. All HR people teach night classes at SOB school.

  8. I have literally never met an HR person who didn't fit at least one, and usually more, of these following criteria (which makes me these are hiring requirements for the jobs)

    1. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

    2. Spoiled/entitled, constantly complaining about how hard they work. Cry me a river. You have a cushy office job, and usually work 9-5. I've often worked 2nd and 3rd shift without shift differentials, and not in cushy offices.

    3. Stupid and ignorant. It doesn't make sense to have some dumb HR doofus interviewing people for a position that the HR doofus doesn't understand.

    In summary, most all HR people are lazy, stupid and/or ignorant (about anything except HR), and spoiled.

    Seriously. That job is like a magnet for such people.

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