Working Wounded Blog: HR -- Friend or Foe?

Last week a friend stopped by who'd just been riffed by Microsoft (reduction in force, for the luckily uninitiated).

She spoke angrily about the human resources woman who answered most of her questions concerning her severance and departure from the company incorrectly. Initially my friend was told there was no severance beyond six weeks and her layoff would leave her just short of the date when she'd be fully invested in her pension. Later she talked to a more senior HR staffer who reassured her that she would receive enough additional time to receive her pension.

Misinformation. It happens all the time. But I can think of few times more painful than when you are getting laid off to get bad information. In football the term for this would be piling on. And yet I hear from people all the time who have gone through an experience that would be difficult enough by itself -- getting laid off -- only to have salt poured on their wounds by insensitive or incompetent HR or management staff.

Let me lay a card or two on the table. I like the vast majority of human resources people I've met through the years. I've spoken at HR conferences, I've written for HR publications and I consider many HR people to be my friends. This shouldn't be surprising because I like people with heart.

It pains me when people in HR forget that they need to be the bridge between the company and its people, rather than just serving as an agent for the company.

Let me explain. I once spoke at a HR conference. I began by asking if audience members grew up with an adult's table and a children's table at big family events like Thanksgiving. Most of the audience smiled and said they had.

I then asked a simple question. As an HR person, which table do you sit at where you work, the adult's table or the children's table? (executives or employees). For the rest of the session, every person who spoke began by saying that he or she sat at the adult's table and then they explained why. "I have a great relationship with the CEO and board." "I attend executive staff meetings." "I report directly to the CEO." These were all typical responses.

Oh, there was one exception. At the very end of the session one HR director said that she preferred the children's table because you could play with your food, there weren't a bunch of annoying rules and meals were always fun.

But the correct answer is either "both" or "neither." The most effective HR people must be able to mix it up at both the adult and children's table, but they should never allow just one audience -- executives or employees -- to dominate their thinking. Because, to be effective, they need to be a bridge between both groups.

It is tough to have to fit in both in the rarefied air at the top of the corporation and in the trenches where the work really gets done. Let's just give thanks that there are people out there who can.

Quote of the Week

"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." -- William James

Book Excerpt of the Week

From "Frontline HR" by Hornsby and Kuratko (Thompson, 2005)

"Dealing effectively with employee problems consists of both employee discipline and assistance to employees. However, too many organizations either ignore these types of programs or give them too little attention."

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at bob@workingwounded.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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