At the risk of naivety, I ask, what role(if any) in a typical organization/company would be a "Friend" to an employee?

  • 6
    Guys it is self-evident that the OP means (as in the common phrase) who is your supporter in employment troubles.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 17:04
  • 3
    @Fattie Maybe we can guess what the author means, and maybe we will guess correctly. I don’t think that absolves them of clarifying exactly what they mean in their question. What kind of “friend”? What kind of support? Legal advice? Emotional support? Helping to bury the body?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 19:02
  • @Rickka Since what people often mean by "HR is not your friend" is that "HR's interest is to protect the company, not the employees", my understanding of your question is, "Which role(s) in a company exist to protect the employees?". Is that correct?
    – BSMP
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 18:32

8 Answers 8


Labour union and other staff representation

In many workplaces, there are organised systems in place for the representation of employee interests. In some countries, this is mandated by law, at least for employers over a certain size. This may be a formal council elected by employees, it may be a union representative, or a less formal representation. It might be called Personalrat, Betriebsrat, Works council, ondernemingsraad, staff forum, staff council, union representation, or be known under a different name. If they exist in your workplace, they should have made themselves known in some form or another.

If you don't have such a representation, you may want to organise one. You may want to consult with the law in your country; in some countries, it's completely legal to fire people for no reason at all, including for organising. Your labour union can advice. As has been stated, HR is not your friend. But if you are in a conflict with HR, friends can be very helpful.

Labour unions are supposed to be your friend¹. Hopefully your labour/staff representatives are competent and clever, in which case you can't go wrong by confidentially talking to them (they may want you to be a member to help you specifically; you can't join an insurance after your house has burnt down either). It's possible that your labour union is malfunctioning in some way, in which case you might have to be more careful. There exist labour unions that are corrupt, run by organised crime, associated with a one-party state, or completely incompetent. If you live in a democratic society, you should be able to vote corrupt or otherwise bad union or staff representatives out of power; but if there is actual intimidation or totalitarianism involved, your problems are probably worse than a simple "HR is not your friend".

¹Friend in the meaning of on your side in a conflict, not personally.

  • 10
    My experience is that the union cares more about itself than the employees and will definitely throw you under the bus if they had to to maintain their power.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 16:15
  • 8
    Unions are NOT your friend. In all cases where I ever had to interact with them, they were way worse then any manager or HR rep I dealt with. They primary care about Union power even if that means doing significant damage to their constituents.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 16:17
  • 12
    I have never had any bad experience with any union representation. If your union representation is bad, elect other representatives or run for representation yourself. Added a paragraph to cover this.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 16:19
  • 5
    You get bad unions just like you get bad management, especially if the workforce is not closely engaged with the union.
    – Steve
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 19:34
  • 4
    Even when I wasn't completely happy with my union at work, they were consistently an ally I could trust. It helped that I was fairly engaged with my site's representative, and I even went to the occasional meeting.
    – mkdir
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 21:57

Although this doesn't answer your literal question I want to say this about it. The phrase "HR is not your friend" just means that their interests don't necessarily align with yours. However there is nothing unique or special about that. Both inside and outside the worksetting there are a lot of circumstances where your interests conflict with the interests of someone else. For instance when the time has come to divide the inheritance of your parents even your siblings might not be your friends.

So although literally the phrase is true, don't let it's regular use on this site make you seeing HR-people as (potential) enemies. As I said before there are also (possible) conflicts of interest with your boss, direct colleagues and/or clients, in some cases even more so. I think it's physiologically too exhausting and counter-productive to see all these people all the time as (potential) enemies.


HR is generally on the company side. Their job is to protect the company based on policies and procedures. So they are "on your side" only if you fall within the scope of the policy they need to enforce (sexual harassment, etc). But in terms of you not liking someone or just disagreeing with someone, they're going to take the side of the company and state that the company's decisions are what need to be followed, not your personal grievances. After all, the success of the company is by what they can offer to their customers, not the fact that they resolved some issue between Rickka and his/her supervisor.

With that said, your "friend" is your resume. It's a powerful tool. When you submit your resume to a different company and turn in your 2 weeks notice, you're sending a powerful signal to your company that you are not in agreement with whatever issue you had. They may change or they may be glad to see you go. Either way you find a new job, new place, and hopefully have a better time.

  • Unfortunately I must say sexual harassment is often not quite a good example as HR might offen want to protect the harasser if he is powerful in the company.
    – guest
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 17:45

I ask, what role(if any) in a typical organization/company would be a "Friend" to an employee?

Friendship is not achieved via a role.

Anyone at a company can be a friend. I've had friends in my department, friends who were my bosses, friends who worked for me, friends who were the CEO, CTO, CFO, CIO, etc., and yes - even friends in HR.

I could turn to any of those friends and have a confidential conversation that I knew would remain confidential. And I always knew those friends would be honest with me to the best of their ability, as I was with them.

In general, if you are friendly you'll have friends in many roles.


Anyone with a potential conflict of interest is potentially not your friend. And that includes almost everyone within your company and even outsiders such as vendors and clients.

And yes, even unions can side against you. I'm not saying this happens all the time. But if you don't have much seniority, or if you're not particularly pro-union, that can easily mean that your own interests can be diametrically opposed to what they advocate.

And yes, HR is not your friend, not just because it has a conflict of interest, but because first and foremost, HR is usually the unofficial fixer of the company. HR may pretend to be an impartial mediator that follows the law, but it can just as easily turn on you, help the company fire you, and help coordinate a cover-up. Protecting the company is indeed HR's primary function.


IMHO, depending on the internal culture.

But in most cases there are NO friends at work, people go to work to earn money, privileges and advancements.

These things are scarce and concentrated in to the chosen few.

So, your best friend at work are employee handbook and employment lawyer? :)


Your Network

Your network is the informal set of people who have a positive impression of you and will listen to you if you approach them. These are the people you influence, and who influence you. They can help you answer work-related questions, help you with new job opportunities, etc. Networking is an important skill, but I'm not remotely the best person to ask about it, so see more posts on SE or the greater internet.




At work, even your friend is not your friend.

A friend of mine, "J", told me about an incident in her business. Her friend worked for her, and was making mistakes. J started leaning on her friend, and her friend said something to the effect of telling J to lighten up because they were friends. J responded NOT HERE, WE ARE NOT

While there is SOME overlap in real life, and you can be friends with people at work, they are your friends only if they are your friends, but there is nobody at work, who, by function of their position is your friend.

That includes any doctors you are sent to, including psychologists and psychiatrists.

Now, that is not to say that there are good resources to go to or use, but ultimately, everyone on the job is there to do their job first.


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