Lots of people go into HR because they like people and because they think there will be no math.

The problem is, there’s lots of math, and liking people often means you’re too nice and understanding.

I like math.

I also like people, which can mean it’s a bit difficult to have those really hard conversations with people. But, that’s part of being an HR person. If you can’t straighten up your spine and speak to people about difficult things, and sometime fire them, you should move to a different profession.

Behavox ran a survey of HR people (although, they didn’t share their methodolgy or numbers, so take it for what you will). Here’s some horrifying information:

More than one in five HR respondents said they are hesitant to address misconduct. Here are their reasons:

  • Half (50%) worry about legal implications of addressing misconduct.
  • Two of 5 (42%) said they are conflict-avoidant.
  • Three of 10 (30%) admit they are too busy.
  • One in 5 (22%) say they are just not committed to addressing misconduct.

That’s 20 percent of HR not addressing misconduct. While we can all sympathize with being too busy (probably writing Covid vaccine policies and taking employee temperatures), I want to address the first one.

Worrying about legal implications of addressing misconduct.

I’m a member of a huge number of HR groups on Facebook and Reddit, plus LinkedIn. Frequently a question like this will come up: “An employee peed in the hallway. What do I do?”

And one of the first questions that pops up is, “Is the employee in a protected class?”

Then someone else will say “Do you have a policy prohibiting peeing in the hallway?”

These are the people who are worried about the legal implications of addressing misconduct. They are panicked that if they address behavior it will come back to bite them unless every possible i is dotted and t is crossed.

Employees like to wail and whine about such things, but I’m letting you in on two HR secrets.

1. Everybody is in a protected class.

Yep. Every single person. Title VII doesn’t protect certain races or genders. It protects ALL races and genders. You can’t fire someone for being a straight, white, male any more than you can fire someone for being a gay, black, female. Ignoring bad behavior because someone is in the wrong “group” actually opens you up to more litigation. Address bad behavior with everyone, every time. (Well, get their managers to do it, if possible.)

2. You don’t need a policy for every bad behavior.

Could you possibly make a list of everything bad that an employee could do? Your handbook would need to be 400 pages long and you’d still miss something. (Employee: You can’t fire me for putting live crickets in the breakroom fridge. There is nothing in the handbook about live crickets.)

Of course, you want policies about call in procedures, absences, discrimination, abusive behavior, etc. But, there is no way you can come up with all the ways an employee can sin. It’s just impossible.

You can absolutely discipline someone for something like peeing in the hallway. (To assuage your fear of lawsuits, you can find out if there was a medical reason, or if the manager refused the employee’s request to use the bathroom. This is why you have a conversation and investigate before disciplining or terminating.)

Firing is part of HR

I hate, hate, hate, firing people. It’s a horrible feeling to pull someone’s source of income out from under them. But, if you can’t do it, you can’t be in HR. (In fairness, the manager needs to be the one to deliver the bad news, but you need to support, sign off, answer any questions, and take the anger that comes with a lot of terminations.

Standing up to executives is part of HR

One of the frustrating parts of being an HR person, is you’re rarely the decision maker. You are in an advisory role. Sometimes line management makes horrible decisions. Hopefully they consult you before they go ahead and do something dumb, and when they do, it’s your job to stand up and say this is a bad idea. You also need to explain why it’s a bad idea.

If you can’t stand up to a VP and say, “This could result in X, Y, and Z,” then you don’t have the backbone to be in HR. It’s your job to protect the business, and that means telling people when their business decisions will damage the business.

Yes, you need to back down if they refuse to listen to you, and then you need to enforce their policy or you need to leave. It may be unfair, but that’s the role of HR.

So, if you lean toward wimpiness, I recommend a career change. HR is not for wimps.

Image by Роман Бойцов from Pixabay

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5 thoughts on “HR Is Not for Wimps

  1. Another major reason HR professionals are hesitant to address employee misconduct is lack of management back-up or support. If you don’t think that your efforts will make a difference or — worse yet — believe that you’ll have a huge hassle/blow-back with management, you’re going to be less inclined to continue to attempt to address misconduct.

  2. Sometimes you have to be the one to stand up and address the issue. It is called the job. Someone has to be the adult in the workplace.

  3. Great article. As usual, you hit on many things I think about the HR profession. I appreciate your POV on many HR related topics and always recommend people read this blog. Thank you.

  4. This touches on a personality trait that many of us need to unlearn. I refer to those people, primarily women, who will just stop communicating when they have a problem with someone, whether it’s because he didn’t do the dishes or she wants to break up — not because the problem is serious or the other person is scary, but simply because she is absolutely unwilling to confront another person face to face and tell him the problem.

    Obviously such a person has no business being the HR lady or a manager. But you’ll often find her among the rank and file employees, and she’ll use complaint processes for petty, trivial reasons simply because of that same unwillingness to confront someone.

    Sorry, ladies, but that’s a misuse of the system. Your unwillingness to confront is just plain irresponsibility and it’s nobody’s fault but your own.

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