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Bad Guy

The frequent requests on HR can make pros cranky. Those often caught in the crosshairs are employees. There, I said it.

In a purely unscientific poll, we discovered that the first impression HR gives to many employees, in various geographies and industries, is one of disdain. Frustrated HR people answer the phone or respond to an email with a “tone.” And those air quotes are not meant to be kind.

In my own life, I can recall deliberately changing my tone after answering a phone call with a gruff “Hello” when I realized it was my boss or the CEO. Otherwise, I may have stayed cranky due to how busy I was. Somehow, my packed schedule and full to-do list was justification for trying to rush an employee off the phone or be dismissive to a department supervisor via email. It was immature and authoritarian in ways it needed not be.

How did we do this to ourselves? I know that not every HR person acts this way. I had to retrain myself to approach communication differently. We have success stories, for sure. But the reputation still precedes us, HR. We’re cranky more than we’re not.

The one-liners from Grumpy Old Men are some of the best the former Odd Couple duo could launch. Truth be told, there may have been one or two that some of us would want to say to a few people around us. Walter Matthau’s character shouting, “Do me a favor. Put your lip over your head and swallow” is deliciously apropos for our most challenging staff. The movie may provide a temporary outlet for such verbal desires, but it ought not to be the theme for the HR Department!

Knowing better does not mean we do better. Be attentive to the way you’re saying what you say. Basic, right? You may have even given that advice to a new manager or the CFO, but how have you applied it to yourself? Re-read that email before you send it. Take a breath before you answer the phone. Review what you plan to say to an employee with an HR colleague or neutral party. Again, these are familiar tactics, but are you doing them? Any self-checks happening?

Maybe today, you can ask a few employees from different areas within the organization to comment on what they think about HR. Ask. And be sure to set the table of safety and confidentiality, if possible, so that the most honest opportunity for feedback would occur. Especially if HR is seen as a distant “bunch of cops,” the likelihood of complete transparency is doubtful. The exercise needs to be worth the time for all involved.

Be encouraged, though, that we can do better. If we’ve made some missteps, own them. Ask for forgiveness and share the better plan/approach that you’ll have. There’s more graciousness in our organizations than we may believe. Step into it. And keep the “moron” comments to yourself.

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