Why Parents Do Not Belong in HR

Why Parents Do Not Belong in HR

By Vadim Liberman

Vadim Liberman is senior editor of TCB Review. Adapted from a post on the TLNT blog.

Do parents make good HR professionals?

I ask because I worry that too many HR people—with or without children—mistake themselves for moms and dads when they come to the office. That is, when companies send employees the well-meaning message that HR is here for them anytime they have interpersonal conflicts, they treat them like first-graders.

We’re all supposed to be adults, the cliché goes, so why do so many workers act like children? Because HR won’t let them grow up. Sure, you want to help your people resolve disputes, and you should communicate that. But there’s a difference between conveying a message and encouraging workers to act on it.

Do not embolden your people to run to Mom. Mom does not work in HR. An overworked executive does, and she has better things to do than address complaints from employees whose college degrees should qualify them to keep non-issues from ballooning into issues, and resolve them if they do.

This anecdote isn’t about colleagues thwarting your Bring Your True Self to Work Day Parade. It’s about concerned co-workers paving a road, or paper trail, with good intentions (you know where that leads). It also highlights missed opportunities to interact with, learn from, and understand each other.

The problem is, we all fear being confronted as much as we do confronting others. But when someone, particularly a manager, avoids addressing co-workers directly, he highlights his own laziness and lack of interpersonal skills, fails to build positive relationships, possibly creates negative ones, and fosters pointless corporate bureaucracy.

Good leadership is not about avoiding confrontation, it’s about managing it—and the only way to manage confrontation is to have it without needlessly involving hapless HR staffers when possible, which is almost always possible.

There is almost no issue—be it allegedly inappropriate language in an email or potential sexual misconduct—that demands a sit-down with HR rather than initial conversations between employees.

No matter the discomfort, when employees talk to each other first, the company benefits through increased camaraderie, collaboration, and confidence among staffers. Dragging in HR, which should be a last resort, can easily breed contempt—because even if HR can help end a conflict, it doesn’t necessarily solve it.

Ultimately, the best companies are those with employees who feel as though they can go to HR—but do not.

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The Conference Board Review is the quarterly magazine of The Conference Board, the world's preeminent business membership and research organization. Founded in 1976, TCB Review is a magazine of ideas and opinion that raises tough questions about leading-edge issues at the intersection of business and society.