How HR Can Avoid Becoming Cynical

These 5 Tips Will Help You Avoid Cynicism

HR staff must do these five things to avoid becoming cynical.
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Long time HR people always find it amusing when interviewing someone who is just starting out in the profession, who answers the “why do you want to work in HR?” question with, “I just love people.” Look, we all loved people, and then we became HR people.

People ask me why I chose the moniker “Evil HR Lady,” and I say, “Would you read the “Warm and Fuzzy HR Lady?” But I didn't just choose it for the shock factor.

People often view their HR managers as evil - after all, we're the ones who employees blame for low raises, short breaks, and inflexible work schedules. “HR said no,” a boss will say when explaining to an employee why the hoped for raise didn't happen.

The reality is, HR did say no, but the manager never gives the true reason. For instance, HR said no because there's no money left in the finance approved budget. Or, HR said no because the person hasn't met performance expectations in three years, and rather than the manager having the guts to say, “You're not eligible for a raise because you aren't performing up to speed,” he simply says, “HR said no.”

Or, my favorite, the manager didn't even consult HR, just told the employee he'd check with HR and then three days later told the employee that we turned down her request for a raise. Yes, it happens.

Because people don't always like HR, it's not shocking that HR can become cynical towards employees.

After all, it's not always lying managers, it's employees who's 18th grandparent just happened to die over a holiday weekend (sometimes we do keep track).

And people get stuck in traffic four times a week, but, of course, it's not their fault that they are late all of the time. (Helpful hint: if you get stuck that often, that's a sign that you need to leave the house earlier.) And let's talk about the sexual harassers, the racists, and the people who still haven't learned that IT can see your computer history - even if you clear your browser history.

However, when you expect the worst of people all of the time, you cease to be an effective HR person. Let's not forget the human in Human Resources.

Avoid Becoming Cynical about Employees

Here are five tips and tricks that you can use to avoid becoming cynical, even in the most difficult of situations. These five things will help.

Look at the situation from the employee's perspective. I cannot tell you the number of phone calls I've received complaining that a performance review wasn't high enough, but I've never ever, not once, received a call saying, “My manager rated me exceeds expectations and I really think I just met them.” What are these employees thinking? Don't they recognize that just doing their jobs isn't exceeding anything

Well, many managers don't give feedback throughout the year, so the employee may not have any idea that her actual performance isn't stellar. Or, managers give positive feedback throughout the year (because that's easier) and save up all the bad stuff for the official review.

The employee honestly doesn't know that she's not a high performer because no one has ever told her. She also doesn't have access to information on what her coworkers produce, so she can't even do a reliable comparison.

Look for the positive. So, this is the third employee this week whom you've busted for looking at highly inappropriate pictures on their laptops. How many employees are at your site? 1,000? That means 997 employees weren't misbehaving.

Yes, you have to do an investigation to determine if racial discrimination exists in the facilities department. But, just because an employee filed a complaint doesn't mean that the complaint is justified. Most people are good people. Remember that.

Recognize the best. Remember, no one wanders into your office and says, “Can you go talk to Heather? She's always on time and works hard and does a great job.” The Heathers exist. It's not an HR manager's job to discipline the Heathers because they don't need disciplining.

HR can become cynical because we spend all day, every day, solving problems and dealing with the poor performers - not the best.

Try tossing into the daily HR mix rewards for great performance. You don't need to make this a formal process. Shoot an email to the managers you support and ask them to tell you who is doing great things.

When you hear from a manager, send an email to that employee and say, “Hey, I just heard that you did an outstanding job on Project X. Thanks for all you do." It brightens their day, and it brightens yours. It also helps you remember that 80% of the employees are doing a great job.

Streamline your own work. Are you so bogged down in paperwork that you can hardly see straight? Did your dream of helping others reach their potential really become nothing more than filling out Affirmative Action Plans, signing employee reviews, and writing out performance improvement plans?

Do you have no time for the training and development that is your passion? Well, figure out what you can automate (hint: reports), and what you can delegate (hint: create a template for your performance improvement plans and have the managers fill it out), and you'll find that you have a bit more time to do meaningful activities.

Blame yourself (and your department).  Okay, that seems like something only someone cynical would do, but think about it. Remember the first problem - clueless employees? Well, why are they clueless? Because the managers don't know how to manage. Why don't they know how to manage? Get out a mirror and take a look.

The HR department is supposed to contain the experts on the humans in the company. If there are management problems, it's HR's job to fix it. If employees are always coming in late, or quitting without giving notice or any number of other bad things, it's likely that HR has set up the rewards system to encourage such behavior.

When you look at the underlying problems and solve those, people often follow suit. Granted, you'll never reach perfection, but making the company policy and practices better results in better employees.

For instance, if you have fair pay policies, people are less likely to try to fudge their time cards. If you promote based on merit rather than who you know, people start working harder and stop sucking up to management. HR should be on top of fixing all that. Blame starts at home.