Nowadays, many HR staffers say their concerns aren't taken seriously enough by company managers, pointing out that when it comes to matters of policy, it's their job to keep employees engaged and the workplace running smoothly.

But what about when HR's recommendations are not the best response to a workplace problem? Are there times when HR should be told "no"? "Evil HR Lady" Suzanne Lucas says yes; she just wrote about situations in which managers should ignore HR’s recommendations. Lucas says there are times when managers must "push back" against HR policy. Though she ascribes these situations to having to deal with "dunces" in HR, it's not hard to imagine how they can arise even when HR staffers are doing their jobs perfectly.

Lucas focuses on three general guidelines for seeking to go over HR’s head. The first is "When the existing policy defies good sense." In other words, even an effective policy can’t necessarily cover every situation:

Some of you are saying, "gee, that’s all the time."  Well, it’s not.  We have reasons for our policies–a lot of them are done to protect the company from legal liabilities.  It’s one of our main jobs.  But, blanket policies need to be removed when it makes sense to do so.

The second is "You need to fire a poor performer." What an HR staffer has to consider in this situation, she writes, is very different than what a manager is thinking about. Writes Lucas:

Sure, most of the time we’re happy to kick someone out the door for a position elimination or gross misconduct, but for some inexplicable reason HR can also get completely freaked out about firing someone for poor performance…If HR is balking, make sure you have documentation on why this person needs to go (including documentation on how you’ve attempted to develop and help the employee because that is your job), and push back.

Lastly, she writes that managers should take a stand when "HR wants your employees (and you!) to attend a ridiculous training." Her guidelines: "you need to find out which ones are for legal reasons, which ones are actually helpful and which ones are to give the training department something to do."

So maybe HR doesn’t always know best. But it's clear from Lucas' analysis that taking the department’s concerns seriously before deciding whether or not to take a stand is a good place to start.

29 October 2009

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