Say the words “human resources” to ten different people, and you’re likely to get ten different explanations about what it means. There are so many myths surrounding what this profession (or mysterious department of your company) actually does that it’s easy to get the wrong idea and avoid it altogether.
So, let’s take a closer look at your human resources department. Let’s dispel a few of the myths swirling around the profession, and learn about all the ways your friendly HR professionals could be making your life better. We’re putting the “human” back in HR!
The Enforcer Myth
According to Freddie Rohner of iHire, LLC, one of the biggest myths surrounding HR is that the department is there to spy on you and act as your company’s hall monitor. While it is true that the human resources department is tasked with enforcing the rules set by a company’s leadership, the fact is that most of the individuals who work in HR are there because they like people. They didn’t go into the field to tattle or spy.
Most HR professionals genuinely want you to thrive in your role and the biggest part of their job is to help you do so, by ensuring you have the training and the resources you need to focus and perhaps even level up. Don’t avoid your company’s HR department—communicate and ask for what you need to grow. You’re all on the same team.
The One-Way Street Myth
If you’ve ever heard a business owner or manager complain that it’s hard to find good people, you know that both sides of the management-employee relationship are important. Each needs the other to survive. Which is why it’s so clear that the idea of HR simply dictating to employees, or serving as a mouthpiece for managers, is a myth.
In addition to communicating company policies from the top down, the HR department is also in place to help business owners and managers learn what employees need. It’s a bridge, not a bullhorn. A business cannot move forward with unhappy employees or high turnover. It’s the HR department’s job to make sure conflicts are handled and new policies are actually leading to higher productivity—and not just in theory.
The Confidant Myth
Because HR professionals are usually very friendly and people-oriented, it can be tempting to tell them anything and believe, for some reason, that they are bound to a type of doctor-patient (or attorney-client) privilege. Not so. According to Alison Green in a recent piece for U.S. News, HR professionals may, in many cases, have an obligation to share what you’ve told them—even if you’ve specifically asked your HR professional not to.
It’s an HR professional’s job to deal with conflict at a business, and to report potentially illegal behavior like harassment. You can and should talk to HR if you’re having an issue. But don’t expect them to keep all your secrets—it’s just not their job.
The “We’re All Adults” Myth
This statement is, strictly speaking, true. But the problem with it is its corollary, which goes something like this: my company doesn’t need written policies because we’re all adults. Wrong.
Adults can and do make poor choices. According to the HR Department at the University of Florida, not everyone internalizes professional standards or acts on them all the time. Clear, written standards are important because misbehavior by one person can poison a department, and everyone feels the ripple effects of it, including customers and stakeholders.
Clearly communicated policies create a climate of fairness and can provide support for necessary actions. Written policies should address attendance and leave use, dress codes, cell phone use, and guidelines for workplace behavior to uphold ethical and professional standards.
They Can “Fire You for Any Reason” Myth
This myth goes like this: HR can fire you for any reason since Florida is an “at will” employment state. But this is not exactly true.
Florida is indeed an “at-will” employment state, which does mean that either you or your employer can terminate your employment at any time and without any advance warning. However, even with your employment being “at-will,” your employer cannot terminate your employment for an illegal reason.
According to Tracey Pearson, director of employee and labor relations, and Rebecca Peterson, assistant director for faculty relations in human resources, both from Florida State University, despite the seemingly wide latitude of “at will” employment language, an employer’s reason for termination must be legal and nondiscriminatory, cannot appear to be retaliatory, and cannot be based on race, religion, gender, sex or any other protected status. The reason for termination also cannot be in response to the employee engaging in a protected activity, and must abide by the terms of the employee’s employment contract.
There you have it: the five most common HR myths matched with the truth. Now that you’ve got the facts, pick up a fancy coffee for your favorite HR professional and thank them for all they do.
By Laura Schaefer