If you have worked in corporate HR as some of us have, you have had the experiences of innocently walking into a department and employees have a physical reaction to your presence. Eyes widen, people stiffen up, nervous hellos… the immediate thought is “HR is here, who is in trouble?” or “Who is getting fired?” The thought that HR might be coming to say hello or be visiting for something positive may not cross the mind.
Certainly the role of HR is to support managers and employees and have those conversations that are difficult … performance issues, misconduct and the like… a well structured HR department has process and the process should be followed to hopefully have the best outcomes but at times is not always the result. When legislation, rules, regulations, policies, procedures and guidelines are not followed and it is discovered (either with a crisis outcome or happenstance) it is HR who must respond to determine 1) what happened 2) did it violate the above mentioned legislation/rule/regulation 3) how severe was the act and what damage did it cause and 4) what are the recommended outcomes (disciplinary action).
We in HR accept that as our role and must be consistent and fair in application and consequences. Employees in the wider organization accept that they must follow protocols with behavioral expectations and for most they stay on the side of complying with that. They would agree violations of these established protocols needs “punishment” and cannot be condoned or ignored.
So why does HR get perceived as the “bad people” for enforcing what they are expected to do by the organization? Why are employees considered “snitches” or weak if they go to HR to report issues?
My own teenage daughter, in her first job, said to me “HR is only there to fire people and nothing else.”
Truth is of course we do so much more than fire employees, on the HR spectrum, we have a mandate to keep employees and the workplace positive. And that includes ensuring/enforcing employee compliance.
It is very uncommon for a question to be asked on a company employee engagement survey or workplace satisfaction survey if they feel protocols are effectively managed (communicated, enforced, applied consistently). And that is short sighted. Anecdotally, we may hear of employees disgruntled with poor performing employees or employers perceived to “get away with murder” with their behaviour. But much of this is not formally measured.
These same employees want that problematic employee taken care of, they want the resources the organization (and HR) utilized to deal with it. Even if it means getting rid of the problematic employee if it is that severe. In several cases, they do not feel safe (especially if it is workplace harassment/bullying/harassment) and most will not want to work for an employer who does not act against problematic employees (managers and non-managers).
We often hear of the employers who are too harsh and apply disciplinary action too much. That itself is not a good situation however the consequences of that are the same as lack of ensuring employee compliance.
Building and consistently following an infrastructure that defines acceptable behaviour in the workplace, having appropriate monitoring mechanisms in place, providing safe outlets for reporting of employee non-compliance and following and addressing these occurrences are a component of a safe and positive workplace. If the employee cannot count on the employer to do this, it can become a chaotic environment and the business suffers as a result. HR and the employer will never catch everything, however as long as it is known the parameters are real and the process is implemented once it comes to the attention of those in authority, employees will rest knowing the employer has “their backs” applying the process consistently and fairly.
So, for those in HR who are charged with the responsibility of employee compliance roles, you may be seen as the enemy or the internal affairs of an organization that has to be avoided and not spoken to. Know that the role is critical and most, even those that do not acknowledge it, are very happy to have someone acting in this capacity.