upstart thoughts on talent and leadership

Going To Talk To Your HR Rep: Suggestions

In ! Jen, Employee Tips, General Work on Friday, April 2, 2010 at 10:10 pm

For the purposes of this post, let’s set aside sentiments that HR sucks, that you haven’t had good experiences with HR, you know someone who was blindsided by someone from HR, you can’t trust your HR manager, yada yada yada.

There IS value in going to HR: to voice concerns about harassment or questionable management actions, get advice on how to approach something or someone, among countless other reasons. Let’s say you’re planning to talk with your HR representative about something. Here are some tips from someone who’s been on the other side:

  1. Be sincere. Don’t try to sell your HR person on your viewpoint. Just tell it as it is.
  2. Be prepared. Have a purpose for your meeting and line up the who / what / where / why / how of the situation or concern you’re sharing. Don’t go in only having a vague idea of what you’ll be saying.
  3. Describe facts, not feelings. As angry or hurt the situation would make any rational person, you want to share things that can be seen or heard: behaviors, visible reactions, responses. “She looked offended” doesn’t mean as much as “she threw her arms up into the air and left the room” or “she stopped the conversation and said that she was offended by the remark.”
  4. Be clear on what you want. This doesn’t always apply, of course, but if it does, be able to articulate what you want to have happen as a result of your conversation. Even if it’s: “I’d like your help brainstorming ways I can approach my manager to discuss why he never acknowledges my projects in team meetings.” Sometimes I have meetings where I truly have no idea what the person I’m talking to wants to have happen next. And when I ask, they can’t say what they want either. Have a goal in mind.
  5. Talk first to the source of your problem if you’re coming to complain about someone. Show that you’ve first tried to deal with this issue professionally and directly on your own. It can be frustrating to talk with someone who has talked with everyone but the person with whom they’ve got a problem. This happens a whole lot more than you’d think. I once encountered a rift between two employees that (as best could be remembered) started when one person didn’t respond to the other’s “good morning.” Seriously. And because it wasn’t surfaced as a point of hurt right away, layers upon layers of passive aggressiveness and months of ignoring each other wound its way into legitimately recognizable bad behavior. And not a word between the two parties involved!
  6. Be open to feedback and other interpretations. Not everyone has the same level of understanding as you, of course. So be open to hearing how another person may respond to your situation. What may be reasonable and polite to you may not even be on another person’s radar.
  7. For policy violations: bring evidence, and realize that you may be sent to someone else. Many larger companies have policy or ethics hotlines, and those may be better venues for policy complaints. But don’t go to your HR person with only an accusation. Have the details ready to share and be verified. And don’t expect HR to go on a wild goose chase around an accusation—there aren’t enough resources to investigate say, someone you believe is cheating on expense reports, but you don’t have any facts with which to back up that allegation.
  8. Be civil. I once had an employee complain about his manager, absolutely rabid with spewing personal attacks on his manager’s character. His credibility would have been better served if he stuck to the particular incidents in question: dates, places, situations. Be as neutral as you can, and always maintain professional decorum and respect.
  9. Don’t come with incidents lacking merit or could be perceived as frivolous. Complaining about the number of smoke breaks someone takes every afternoon may turn the tables on how you’re able to have enough time to track the comings and goings of the smoker.
  10. Realize the limits of working for someone else. Until you’re the sole proprietor of your company, you will have to answer to a manager, or higher level managers, the Board of Directors, or whomever, and their rules.
  11. Be patient, it takes time, The process to investigate your concern may well take some time to make a well-informed decision. Don’t rush it. More may be going on than you can or should be aware of.
  12. Don’t expect overnight miracles. After you’ve spoken with your HR rep and the intervention (or what have you), has occurred, be patient. Be generous in allowing the time and space for improvements to be made, for people to change their behavior, for process improvements to take effect.
  13. Less is more. Don’t share every single last detail. Come with the big points, describe them succinctly, and simply say: “I have many other incidents to share with you, but I want to respect your time. Would you like me to continue down my list, or would you like for me to send you an email with the rest?” You will earn your HR rep’s appreciation. Give us the gist of what you have to say with evidence, but don’t tire with incident after incident. If you’ve reached an hour’s time, please don’t go further unless requested.
  14. Don’t expect confidentiality in all cases. If you are bringing forward a claim of legitimate harassment, your company has a legal obligation to investigate further. This means that your complaint and the person in question will have the light thrown on them and confidentiality cannot be protected.
  15. If you don’t know the process, ask for clarification. It’s totally okay and expected to ask your HR rep: “what happens next, after this meeting?” This has the dual effect of managing expectations and keeps the HR rep aware that you want to monitor what happens next, and that you’re keeping a timeline.
  16. Ask what else YOU can do. This question always wins me over. It shows that you want to take responsibility / accountability in this situation, that you want to do more, that you’re open to feedback, that you recognize there is more than you could be doing.

Good luck & if you have questions about a particular situation, talk with your HR rep, or email me.     jenleeo (at) me (dot) com

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