HR Policies & Procedures

Is There a Conflict of Interest in HR Roles?

HR professionals have to wear many hats. They have to be a confidant for employees to turn to with concerns. They have to be up to date on legal issues to protect the organization. They have to act as a professional recruiter to bring in top talent (or coordinate such activities). They have to understand (and sometimes implement) the Human Resources Information System (HRIS) for the organization and even help with employee goal setting and communications. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

HRWith all the roles any HR professional has to take on, it can often occur that there’s a bit of a conflict of interest—there are countless examples in which there may be conflicting goals and needs presented all at once.

Employee Expectations Versus Employer Goals for HR

Employees often assume that the HR staff is there to administer benefits, process payroll (sometimes), and to resolve complaints within the organization and about the organization. And these things are often true. But the catch is, HR representatives also have to protect the organization and have to report to managers of the organization, too. As such, it can be a very fine line: employee needs and frustrations may be in direct or indirect conflict with the organization’s needs.

Here are some examples:

  • Employees want more training, but the organization has not allocated enough of a training budget to meet employee expectations. HR is in a tough spot: to retain employees, it’s tempting to promise more training or other development opportunities, but it may not be practical for the organization, and they may not have the final say in what training is provided.
  • Employees expect the HR team to be on their side when it comes to complaints about managers or about the organization in general. But even if the HR professional agrees with the general complaint, he or she may not be able to advocate for changes without risking his or her relationships in the organization. Employee benefits are a common example here; employees may complain about or request different benefits—and HR may see the rationale and why the benefit would be useful—but HR teams may not have the final say in what benefits the organization chooses to offer. This leaves the HR team with little to say to employees who come with such requests.
  • Employees expect HR to “fix” things, but HR may not have the final say in most matters. Examples include benefits, training, software used by the company (even HR software), etc. HR professionals may have a lot of input on these matters, but often they are not the ones with the final say in what the organization chooses. There may or may not be much the HR team can do to change these decisions, even if the employees are unhappy.
  • Individual members of the HR team may not be immune to problems themselves. What happens when either an HR team member is being harassed or is harassing another employee? What recourse would that person have? Whom would they turn to? There may be answers to these questions in some organizations, but in others it may preclude the ability to get a satisfactory result. HR professionals may not know how to react when someone who is accused of wrongdoing is also the same person who holds power over them.

It’s a difficult needle to thread. HR professionals are tasked with ensuring employee needs are met, but they must do so within the constraints presented by the organizational budgets, while taking into account how to best keep the organization protected from a legal standpoint on all applicable matters. Conflicting interests happen often, and finding the best solution sometimes seems impossible.