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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Which side should HR be on? (or no side, at all)

We work with great HR professionals.

They are dedicated, responsive, professional, and informed.

And the role of HR hasn’t been easy – particularly during the pandemic.

On the one hand, there is a trend towards the role becoming more strategic – on the other, the issues of staff welfare and mental health have increased massively in importance.

But here’s a question which has been on my mind before – and which resurfaced when I read an article last week.

Which side should HR be on? (or, no side, at all).

A year ago, I heard a story about an employee who raised a grievance. She claimed there was bullying behavior by her manager.

The grievance process ran its course - but the employee was unhappy about the way it was carried out, various procedural issues and the outcome.

When she raised these points with HR, she was told that the matter was closed, and management had acted correctly. There seemed no way forward and that was that.

She felt that HR had acted in the interests of management only.

Now, of course, there are two sides to every story. But the story came to mind when I was reading an article’ ‘the Women Calling out Apple’ Handling of Misconduct Claims.’ (‘Financial Times’ 4 August 2022).

It turns out that there have been several allegations of poor treatment of (mainly women) employees at Apple. Possibly bred from an ‘engineering’ culture – and the legacy of the management style of Steve Jobs. (The article claims that the Hollywood image of Jobs still lives in the way many Apple leaders behave).

The complaints were taken to HR – but the feeling was that HR was simply echoing the ‘voice of senior management.’

One employee took a complaint of bullying to HR – and felt like she was treated as ‘if she was the problem.’ She was told that the manager she was concerned about was away from the office for a period and ‘maybe you’ll be better by the time he’s back.’

The ‘Financial Times’ reports:

‘The stories shared by women at Apple indicates that the world’s largest company is falling behind is falling short of building the culture it aspires to. The accounts collected by us paint a portrait of a People Team (HR) that acts less like a safe place for employees to go with complaints – and more like a risk mitigation unit for bad managers. In six cases, women speaking up said they had been cast as bad team members – and some subsequently left.’

So, where is the dividing line?

  • If HR see senior managers acting in a poor way, possibly short-circuiting best practice or regulations, should senior managers be tackled by HR?

  • If HR see a manager acting in a toxic way, should they step in and act?

  • If HR sees that the due process has been followed – but feels the outcome of a grievance or disciplinary appeal is unfair on the employee, what then?

This is important stuff – as we often read that people who are bullied at work wont report what is going on as they think it could be detrimental to their own job or career.

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