76

Location: England. Industry: IT, Software Development

I recently contacted HR about my manager's way of communicating with me. My understanding is that if I have an issue at work, and it is not something that I can resolve peacefully myself, then I should take it to my manager. However in the situation where the issue is with your manager, you would go to HR (or if you manager is not able to fix the issue you're having, then go to HR.).

What I want to understand better is what does HR do when I bring up an issue with them, especially when I bring an issue up about my manager?

What can I expect as a result of raising and issue, and are there any pitfalls that could cause me more trouble at work? Over all, what does HR do?

There's a lot of information on what HR is meant to do all over the internet, so case specific to England would be great.

  • 48
    I don't think HR will be interested in your professional conflicts unless there is an implication of a breach of company policy / the law. – Ant P Dec 20 '16 at 9:53
  • 16
    As @AntP says, HR is really about creating and enforcing company policies and employment law. It may extend to resolving staff conflicts, but depending on the way this manager is "communicating" with you, it likely falls outside their scope. If the communication is abusive or bullying, it falls in their domain. If it's unclear or brusque, not so much. In the latter case you'd be better served learning how to "Manage Up" or "Manage your Manager" - a skill that will serve you well for the future. – Laconic Droid Dec 20 '16 at 12:40
  • 85
    HR does nothing for you, except incidentally, where it is of benefit to the company. HR’s prime duty is to protect the company against its emplyees. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Dec 20 '16 at 13:01
  • 10
    I don't know how true this is, but it seems wise to live by it: Not your friend – Robert Grant Dec 20 '16 at 15:06
  • 35
    HR job is not to fix your problem but to determine if you are the problem that needs fixing. – Mark Rogers Dec 20 '16 at 17:23
91

The primary purpose of HR is to ensure that the company and its employees are complying with the labor laws of your locale, that company policies are in compliance with your locale's labor laws and that employees including management are in compliance with company policy. Ideally, HR should be independent of management but the reality is that top management has high influence over HR and in many smaller outfits where HR is run as a less than professional operation, HR is at the beck and call of management. You could say that HR is here to protect the company and that HR protects the company by ensuring that the company and its employees are in compliance. Anything that HR does such as producing the employee handbook and educating the employees on company policies including benefits is aimed at ensuring compliance as smoothly as possible. Don't ever get the idea that HR is here to dispense justice.

If you escalate anything to HR, the first thing they'll check is whether there is anything in the issue that involves a potential violation of labor laws as complied with by the company or a violation of company policy as interpreted by HR - remember that in practical terms, top management may exert undue influence. If top management signs your paychecks, then they have influence on you.

HR can take corrective action only if HR can determine that your locale's labor laws were not complied with or that there was a violation of company policy. And their corrective action will be limited to bringing the company and its employees back into compliance, by disciplinary action if that's what it takes.

  • 1
    Does this all apply in the UK - I don't know if this was written from a US based view? – Tim Dec 20 '16 at 14:19
  • @Tim - 1. Yes, it is written based on a US view; 2.You get to tell me how HR in the UK drastically differs in its mission from HR in the United States. hrmguide.co.uk – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 20 '16 at 14:38
  • 1
    I'm not saying it does I'm simply interested if it does. Many things are different between the countries, and it could be that HE has laws requiring impartiality here etc. – Tim Dec 20 '16 at 14:40
  • 20
    @Tim - "Impartiality" between whom and whom? HR's mission is to protect the company and if they have to choose between the company and you as an employee ... Don't make them do that :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 20 '16 at 14:46
64

OK, straight up

HR is there to protect the company. Simple.

Sometimes they protect the company from the bosses who do stupid things. Sometimes they protect the company from an employee with a genuine gripe. Ultimately, they are not on your side.

So, with that in mind, a gripe about communication style to HR is going to yield very little result. Unless your manager is harrassing, bullying or commiting some other unprofessional act towards you, going to HR is not the option. It may even count against you.

As it stands, you've already jumped in with 2 feet, so now the advice is to watch/cover your arse. You might have just kicked a hornet's nest.

That said, you might get lucky and find your complaint is one of many against this boss. If this is the case, you'll be fine.

EDIT: Following recommendations from the balcony, I have removed a section from my answer. If you work in a non-male dominated industry in a country other than the UK (and maybe the Antipodes), this is terrible advice. However, OP is IT and in the UK. With many years' experience in this sector and country, I belive that the following actions may have helped...

At the next social, drop a couple of insults in your boss' direction, share a laugh then let the grievance go.

  • 4
    @JoeStrazzere The work culture is very different over here. Office socials are a time to cut loose, and calling your boss a choice word or two usually results in laughs all round and a clearing of the air, especially in a male-dominated culture like IT. – JohnHC Dec 20 '16 at 11:39
  • 6
    People tend to be unforgiving - especially if you already have existing issues with them. I wouldn't risk "a choice word or two", because even if they laugh in public, so as not to cause a scene, I very much suspect they'll be nursing a grudge in private, and that's really not something you want. – flith Dec 20 '16 at 13:32
  • 6
    The advice about calling names in front of coworkers is so bad (outside of male-dominated, traditional workplaces in the U.K., I guess?) that I undid my upvote of this otherwise good answer. Maybe you might edit out that part. – Todd Wilcox Dec 20 '16 at 13:48
  • 3
    "call your boss a choice word or two", publicly at a party nevertheless, is quite possibly some of the worst advice I have ever heard. Even if the boss always jokes around saying stuff like "you crazy gosh darned SOB!" it doesn't mean that one can expect to comfortably clear a grievance with a reciprocal comment. This isn't Festivus. – MonkeyZeus Dec 20 '16 at 14:22
  • 8
    @JohnHC As someone working in that male-dominated UK IT culture, you're still taking a stupid risk for no benefit. You're actually justifying your boss behaving in the way you don't like, which means it will never end. If you enjoy a "banter" culture, that's fine, but people can and will quit if that culture is making them uncomfortable. Also, frankly, if the shit does hit the fan over this stuff, you're now a great sacrificial lamb, as you're publically a "difficult person". – deworde Dec 20 '16 at 14:32
20

As many folks have already stated, HR is there to protect the company. They may have other side functions such as retention and such, but make no mistake they are there to protect the company.

I would add to these responses that in your scenario, proper procedure is to use the chain of command. In other words, be sure you ALWAYS give you boss a chance to address the issue, and do so in writing ( email ). It that does not work, go to your boss's supervisor, and so on.

Do not skip a person in the chain of command as this can have a negative impact on you down the road.

HR typically is a good resource if the issue is something like sexual harrassment, time off, benefits, or racism.

  • Retention is a form of protecting the company's asserts/finances. ;) – jpmc26 Dec 21 '16 at 17:54
  • @jpmc26 Yes indeed it is, no argument there. – Mister Positive Dec 21 '16 at 17:54
11

Firstly, you need to speak to your manager. Speak as adults and see if whatever is going on can be resolved. I suppose this is a bit dependant on the nature of the issue, but as you haven't stated it, generally I would go down this route. It could simply be a misunderstanding or something that has led to this situation, and a simple chat may resolve it.

Then you need to look at your employee handbook. Is what he is doing against any rules? Is he harrassing/bullying you? Or do you simply not get on?

If you think that there are rules being broken, you then need to compile some evidence. You need to back up what has happened with emails/witnesses or something. Something more quantifiable than "He said blah blah blah to me". Times/Dates/Specifics. Only then should you look to raise a grievance with HR. Note, at this point, your relationship with your current manager will probably not be recoverable. This could lead to your manager being sacked (if it's deemed gross misconduct), so could impact the relationship between work colleagues as well.

What happens here is specific to how your company deals with grievances, but the usual sort of thing is roughly as follows:

  1. Informal - HR may provide a setting to try and resolve this issue before initiaing formal procedings. If you have tried to speak to your manager about these issues before, HR will try and get the same to happen again.
  2. Formal - You will have a formal, on the record meeting with HR. You are entitled to bring a fellow employee into the meeting with you should you wish. This attendee will be allowed to confer with you, but can't directly answer questions for you.
  3. Investigation - All parties will be spoken to and any evidence collated. HR will then decide on the action required.

Unless this behaviour is deemed Gross Misconduct, your manager is unlikely to be fired. He may receive a verbal/written warning. There may be no action at all.

To summarise, you need to try and resolve this informally. You need to speak to him and say x is unacceptable for reasons y and z. Give him time to try to take this on board. If after this discussion there is no improvement, then take the HR route.

BUT, as soon as you do this, there would be very little scope for your professional relationship with your manager to exist. This may impact on performance reviews/promotions etc. These things could be done with allocating you low proirity work and other colleagues higher priority work (and so can judge them higher than you in appraisals etc).

8

When you are finished reading all the other answers emphasizing that the purpose of HR is compliance (i.e. "protecting the company") you should be aware the compliance is, in fact, but one function of HR. Other functions include:

  • all aspects of recruitment, including sourcing, resume review, interviewing, and managing an internship program
  • all aspects of retention, which include many of the following more specific functions
  • monitoring and managing employee productivity
  • setting compensation and negotation (mostly a matter of retention)
  • identifying top and bottom performers and taking appropriate action
  • managing not only who gets promotions but the entire promotion structure: should your company be flat or based on a sequence of promotions?
  • allocating, you know, human resources, and making sure areas that need headcount receive it in due priority
  • monitoring attrition rate and assuring teams are equipped to handle it
  • promoting positive morale and productivity, which includes managing perks programs, work from home policy, and so forth

If your interests align with the company along any of these directions, HR may have something to offer you. Caution is advised.

  • Thank you - I was going to post this. I don't know where that nonsense comes from that HR only cares about protection of the company from legal issues. In all companies I worked for that had a size large enough to warrant an actual HR, they were doing exactly as you say. So unfortunate that the top answer, which is clearly lacking, has been accepted on the day the question was asked, as seems to happen so often. – AnoE Dec 22 '16 at 1:11
  • 1
    @AnoE this is basically a religious tenet on workplace.SE. People pile on to show they are worldly enough to know this. There's this one, "don't take a counteroffer," few others. – user42272 Dec 22 '16 at 4:02
  • 1
    Oh another is "any sort of personal involvement with a coworker will lead to trouble that's not worth it." – user42272 Dec 22 '16 at 4:18
3

Nothing.

HR is almost certainly against you. By taking your problem to HR you are making it their problem. They do not want more problems (does anyone?) so they will try to deflect, redirect or otherwise avoid accepting ownership of your problem.

In theory HR wants to facilitate the firms access to the best available human capital to ensure the firm can compete effectively in the market. In the case of government/NFPs, the HR function is the same, but rather than creating profit the theory would hold that they seek to maximise social good through recruiting and retaining great people.

In practice, HR suffers from the agency problem. Let's assume you are a fantastic talent and someone the firm needs to retain to maximise its performance. HR would in theory want to work proactively to address this conflict and ensure you are retained and productive.

However, doing all that is a lot of hard work. Your HR person/people will likely get paid the same either way, so why bother? The principal's interests (retaining great talent) are in conflict with the agent's interests (not working hard).

In a poorly managed HR department, the team will view itself as a compliance function as other answers have suggested. This is normally with an exception for any pet projects any individual HR person wants to implement (think ridiculous 'culture building' activities).

Don't expect a compliance person to solve your problem. HR are there to police, so they'll write you a ticket if your tail light is out, but they are not going to help you fix it (unless fixing tail lights is on trend, then they'll gladly waste hours and ignore all crime to fiddle around in the general area of the tail light and somehow do more damage).

In a well managed HR department...scientists are still searching for one.

Bottom line: HR does nothing for you. But don't take it personally, they do nothing for anyone except themselves.

  • Beware of companies that have large HR departments .They can build empires . – Autistic Dec 22 '16 at 11:27
1

HR is as JohnHC said there to protect the Company, however this also includes protecting the employees environment.

They can't do things about issue's or preferences about how your manager communicates.

They are there to solve Problems between employees. If there is anything your Manager (in this case) isnt allowed to do according to law, internal rules or even social protocol they can and probably will act on that.

Also keep in mind that the size of your HR compared to your Company is probably 1 to 10+ and they have quite alot to do.

1

A lot of these answers seem very long and wordy. The shortest answer to "what does HR do when I bring up an issue with them" is very little, unless any laws have been broken.

Why? Their role is not to take sides in grievances that employees have with one another.

HR's only remit in this kind of dispute is to make sure that no (UK Employment) Law, or company policies, have been broken. If they have then it would be up to the person who raised the issue to prove and demonstrate what they were, in the first instance.

It doesn't sound like any laws have been broken, but rather you simply don't see eye-to-eye with your manager. In that case you'd be best off avoiding HR altogether and try discussing it with your manager like an adult.

The bottom line is that HR are not there to "gang up" on your manager - or vice versa with your manager against you. That isn't, and never has been, the role of a HR department.

Something else which nobody has mentioned is that HR are supposed to act in the same way, on behalf of everyone in the organisation. They are not like a union or lawyer whom might argue a case for a sub-set of people, or even 1 individual, within an organisation. They do not typically argue between sets of people, but are there to ensure a flat structure has been applied equally to everyone.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.