Managers’ Peeves

I’m on thin ice here, talking about pet peeves from members of the human resources community, not about them.

If you do an internet search for “HR Pet Peeves,” what comes up are complaints about human resources, not the other way around. It’s basically a dark secret. Most of the time, except over a beer perhaps, HR folks don’t want to talk about it. But to be honest, HR professionals do have peeves, some mundane, some more significant.

It is very important to understand that HR in many cases is caught in that awkward and often misunderstood middle ground between senior management and employees. As a result, HR is in the line of fire daily as it deals with areas of conflict between the two worlds, such as hiring and firing decisions, discipline, performance ratings and other actions where HR is often painted as the bad guy, the company hit man.

But it might surprise you that HR professionals have their own set of pet peeves as well. So let’s give them a turn to say what bothers them in their jobs, despite the fallout I am likely to encounter. (What the heck, I’m retiring sooner than later.)

PEEVE: HR Is Your Enemy

We aren’t your enemy. On the other hand, we aren’t your savior either.

While it is our responsibility to listen carefully and learn from employees, to educate both employees and management, and to protect employees from mistreatment of all sorts (nasty co-workers, bad managers, the company), our overriding responsibility is to serve the basic needs of the company.

That, in turn, does not make us the employee’s enemy, as some might believe when a decision goes against them. But it does mean that we don’t have two masters, we have just one. In the best world, decisions will benefit both employees and the company and result in a successful company and a great place to work.

But please don’t think that I have failed you if your personal need is trumped by the company’s legitimate business interest.

PEEVE: Who Called This Meeting and Why am I Here?

This is a very common complaint. Meetings can be wonderfully productive and incredibly counterproductive. Here’s a checklist of meeting questions to keep in mind:

Did everyone you’ve invited really need to be there?

Is there an agenda beforehand and a commitment to stick to the agenda?

Is everyone paying attention and not texting on their phone or emailing on their computer?

Did the meeting start on time and is there a time limit?

Did everyone come prepared?

Did the meeting end with concrete action items?

These are simple things, but if they are not part of the meeting plan, the meeting was a waste of time.

PEEVE: Why Are You Complaining?

This is probably my No. 1 personal pet peeve.

There are people who love to complain. We know who they are. Their spouses and friends know who they are. As an HR professional, it is my job to provide employees at all levels with an open door and a promise to listen carefully to what they have to say.

But if I say to you, “What would you like to have happen in this situation?” and you don’t want to offer, or be part of, a solution, you’ve lost my empathy and perhaps my interest entirely, other than to think I’ve got a problem employee on my hands.

Maybe that’s harsh, but it is my reality. This also ties into No. 4.

PEEVE: They Said What?

There is a certain type of person (see No. 3) who loves to hear — and then pass on — the latest gossip or rumor about the company and its employees. The worst of it is, if the rumor is bad news, it seems to be all the more important for this person to pass it on.

I understand that the world is filled with people who love to gossip — the magazine rack in the checkout line of any grocery store will prove that — but the end result is never good. Employees who gossip, spread rumors, speak negatively about co-workers and the company can, and do, poison the office. As Steve Strauss, author of The Small Business Bible, wrote on the American Express Open Forum site, “Gossip is corrosive. Gossip splinters and divides. It hurts the one being gossiped about and diminishes the gossiper. And it is also often wrong.”

Just leave it alone, folks, or at least try to get the real information from someone who knows the facts. You’re only hurting the company and yourselves by acting this way.

PEEVE: The Mythical Job and the Real Candidates

This has happened more than once in my career. Senior management decides it would be good to build a database of potential employees. As a result, a job description is created or modified, advertisements are placed, perhaps recruiters are hired, and HR starts to accept applications from unsuspecting people — but there is no job opening to be filled.

The result is wasted money and effort, ticked off recruiters and applicants who really need jobs having their hopes raised, often sitting and waiting for weeks, months, forever.

It may seem like a good idea, but I have yet to see the good outweigh the bad.

PEEVE: I Can’t Fire Him Yet

I think I lost a job opportunity over this one. An interviewer once asked me, “If I come to you and want to fire someone immediately, are you going to tell me I can’t?”

My answer was, “Perhaps. It depends on what they’ve done and if you’ve taken the right steps with them.”

That didn’t go over well.

But the fact is, short of theft or deviant behavior, employees deserve to know what they are doing wrong and be given the opportunity to correct it. When that isn’t done, it drives HR people crazy.

It’s frustrating to be told someone has been bad at his or her job for a long time, and then find nothing but “good” or “great” performance reviews in the files.

Hey, if you are going to call yourself a manager, then manage.

PEEVE: It’s Confidential

Protecting confidential information in the workplace is a key HR responsibility. At the very least, there are legal limits on what information can be shared at any level of the organization.

And the fact is that it holds true in the face of both employee and management desires for information.

HR can be hit from both directions.

There are reasons to keep information private — to keep employees safe from discriminatory behavior, for example, and to keep the company safe in a world where competition and litigation are rampant.

And neither employees nor management like to hear they don’t have access to certain information for their own good. I’ve had fights over this responsibility, some putting my job and reputation in jeopardy.

PEEVE: The Closed Door

Last but not least is closed-door etiquette.

I’m in HR. I deal with confidential information all day long, and with employees in crisis. When I need privacy, the clue I give is to close my door.

I’m not hiding and I shouldn’t have to post a sign on the door saying, “When this door is closed please knock and wait or come back at a later time.” And that includes my boss, the VP and, God forbid, the owner of the company.

It’s kind of obvious, like don’t leave dirty dishes in the break room sink, don’t raid the refrigerator, don’t leave an empty toilet paper dispenser and don’t copy everyone on your emails.

But those pet peeves are for another day (as if anyone would hire me now).

Author: Jon Stearns

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