In theory, a company’s HR department seems to many like a logical resource for employees dealing with stressful situations or ethical dilemmas involving coworkers or superiors; a confidant for employees looking for a neutral, or even supporting, arm of the organization to act as their supporter, advocate, and protector.
However, the reality is that HR departments and their staffs don’t work for employees; they work for their mutual employer.
HR Caught in the Middle
At best, the position that the HR department is placed in—an intermediary between employees and the organization—creates the potential for some conflict of interest. At worst, it creates an environment of corruption and abuse, which has led countless employees to lose trust in their company’s HR departments.
That mistrust has been fueled by ongoing media accounts of abuse, fanned by the flames of the #MeToo movement. Not all organizations have such toxic environments, of course. Still, there is a growing sense of distrust that is driving some employees to seek counsel outside of the HR department—and even outside of their organizations.
Abuses Lead to Mistrust
According to Danny Crichton, there are several hypothetical examples of abuses he says are archetypal of the types of HR abuses that routinely make the news:
- A superior has made a pass at a subordinate, and an executive of the company asks that the subordinate be fired to “clean up” the situation.
- An employee repeatedly makes homophobic, racist, or sexist remarks to their colleagues, but the company has deemed the individual critical to the functioning of the sales team, and, so, is merely given a warning.
- Company morale is suffering, and complaints are showing up on online sites like Glassdoor, so HR is charged with “fixing” the company’s rating.
- A well-performing employee is repeatedly given poor performance reviews to make his or her firing tidy.
Whether or not specific instances of these hypothetical situations are indeed occurring at an employee’s company, the perception and suspicion are often there, fueled by stories in the media, anecdotes from friends and family, and the office rumor mill.
Where Are Employees Turning?
This creates a situation, says Crichton, where employees who may already have been hesitant to contact HR, now steer clear entirely. He says that employees are increasingly turning to apps and services to get peer information on HR topics. In a part two of this article we’ll talk about the apps and services he’s referring to.