If You Don’t Know Everything about Your Job You Are (Wait for It) NORMAL

I am quite confident in saying I am an HR expert.

I am also quite confident in saying that I don’t know everything about HR.

These two things are not contradictions.

Anyone who claims to know everything about any specialty as broad as HR doesn’t know enough to fight their way out of a paper bag to land a seat at the table.

I can also quite confidently say that the HR person you look up to does not know everything. Neither does the employment lawyer you follow breathlessly.

This is not to denigrate my profession. Any other profession has the same thing going on. (Pssst, that neurosurgeon didn’t get 100 percent on all her board exams.) There is always more to learn, and most people make up a good deal of it as they go along. Yes, the more experience you have, the more likely you are to make the right choice, but then something entirely new comes up.

Remember Covid? (Ha!) I never gave a moment’s thought to disease control in the workplace beyond perfunctory cleaning and reminding employees to wash their hands when they use the restroom. Suddenly, I had to learn. And how did I learn?

I asked questions.

Some questions I asked experts (who were rapidly learning as this was new for everyone). Some questions I asked Google. Some answers I had to piece together from various sources and come up with the best guidelines I could do because no one had ever done this before.

Why do I bring all this up?

My fantastic moderator team and I run a little Facebook group with 20k plus members. (It’s for HR professionals and people who manage other people. If you qualify, we’d love to have you.) One of the features is that people can ask anonymous questions.

This is a great feature for someone who wants to ask a personal question. Or for someone who struggles with an employee whose friends or coworkers just might be in the group.

But lately, I’ve noticed a considerable uptick in the number of people who request to ask anonymous questions that are not personal. Things like

  • What do you do after someone exhausts FMLA and their doctor hasn’t cleared them?
  • We’re opening a new office in California. What do I need to know?
  • I live in [state]. Do we have to pay out vacation when someone quits?
  • What are the best non-cash rewards?
  • Can someone share their policy about [everything under the sun]?

We reject these questions and tell people to either do a search or post under their own names. But I think they want to post anonymously because they are terrified people will find out that they don’t know everything.

This is me, a bona fide expert in HR, telling you that no one knows everything off the top of their head. The key to being an expert is knowing where to look for an answer and knowing enough to know that you don’t know everything. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to admit you don’t know everything. It’s okay to let your boss know you don’t know everything.

No one does. Not even your boss.

Image by Stefan Schweihofer from Pixabay

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5 thoughts on “If You Don’t Know Everything about Your Job You Are (Wait for It) NORMAL

  1. I know I don’t know everything, but my boss thinks she does. This is only a problem when what she thinks she knows is incorrect and she is not willing to take my (or anyone else’s) word for it. We have to l find the statute, regulation, or some other proof. It can be annoying. For instance, we hire teachers, who work a 9 month schedule. She considers them full-time employees, not full-time seasonal employees. Nothing on this planet will convince her that they are seasonal.

  2. I’m a software engineer. If I were to somehow magically infuse my brain so that in a certain moment, I had all the knowledge of software there is… 1) one second (or whatever unit we want to go with) later, that would no longer be the case, 2) my head would explode, and 3) it wouldn’t make a difference anyway except I’d maybe start researching/confirming/writing code/design in the correct area slightly faster.

  3. As a member of the Facebook group you are referring to in this article, I would like to offer a different perspective on why so many people in that group want to post anonymously…some of the most vocal people in that group are jerks. Many of their responses are critical, overly-opinionated, snarky, rude, and outright unprofessional. Too many people jump to conclusions, offer unsolicited opinions, villainize the OP, and answer questions that were not even asked. It’s great entertainment if you like watching HR people act self-righteous and argue with each other over who is right, and then tell each other to have a good night in a passive-aggressive manner when they have decided to dismiss each other (self-righteously of course). These are the people that give us HR folks a bad name. If you can weed through all of the nonsense from those people, however, you will find a nugget or two of advice worth having. On top of that, there was at least one instance that I am aware of where someone posted a question, and someone else from that group contacted the poster’s employment to make them aware of the post. For this reason, if I were to ask a question in that group, I would not attach my name to it, no matter how simple the question may seem – not because I don’t want a bunch of strangers on the internet to know that I don’t know the answer to something. So please don’t assume that all of the anonymous questions are because HR professionals are afraid to admit they don’t know the answer – it is because the environment of that group is not a safe place to put your name out there.

    1. Wow, not a member of that group, but sounds like that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know there are times when I shake my head because someone asks what seems to be an incredibly basic question, but then I remember they may be HR of 1, they don’t have my experience, they may be insecure about their gut instinct, and as mentioned, I don’t know everything either.

      It floors me how mean people can be when someone is just looking for a little help or advice.

  4. Is it even possible to know everything about anything? My agency — at which I’ve worked since 1996 — and my job (at which I’ve worked since 2015), are like onions, only infinite. That is, you can penetrate one layer, only to find another one — and, yet, another one — underneath it. Every day, I learn new things. A much bigger problem than those of us who, admittedly, don’t know everything are those who, erroneously, believe — or, at least, claim — that they do. One of the managers for whom I work appears to, automatically, assume she is right about everything, and that all her subordinates are wrong. At first, when we had a disagreement, I assumed she was correct, in her position. It turns out that she’s been wrong more often than right, so, I can no longer accept her directions and move on. To the contrary, I must research each such issue, to determine the proper course of action, before proceeding. It would be far preferable to receive no guidance from her at all than her faulty instructions. Morale in her unit sucks, employees are threatening to quit, retire or change jobs, and the agency is having to perform a hostile work environment assessment as a result of at least one complaint.

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