Everyone hates HR.
Okay, not everyone. We love ourselves – most of the time. But sometimes, we say things that make people hate us, and it’s our own darn fault.
Alan Collins, the author of The New HR Leader’s First 100 Days, wrote a post on LinkedIn where he identified three “killer” phrases that HR Leaders use. They are:
- “Please Copy Me on Everything…”
- “Look, It’s Company Policy, I Can’t…”
- “I Know I Promised This to You, But…”
I agree with Collins 100%. These phrases will destroy all confidence that people once had in HR. (And, in reality, every leader who uses these phrases.)
Collins suggests asking for updates rather than asking to be copied, explaining the reason behind the company policy (and supporting it even if you, personally, disagree), and never making promises you can’t keep. HR leaders can do much better if they adopt these ideas and eliminate these killer phrases.
They aren’t the only killer phrases, though. You probably have some in your vocabulary that are destroying confidence in your organization, and you don’t even realize it.
Here are a few more:
1. “Recruiting isn’t really part of HR, so, you know, I can’t explain why the process sucks.”
What the employees hear: “Yeah, HR is a bad department. We all know it stinks, and we don’t care.”
There’s often a battle between HR and recruiting, with recruiters often being the loudest opponents to being included in the HR umbrella. Whether recruiting should roll up to HR is an entirely different question, worthy of discussion, but here is the hard truth HR (and recruiting) needs to face: Employees and candidates believe HR and Talent Acquisition are one and the same department.
When HR insults TA or TA insults HR, it weakens the respect in both groups. It shouldn’t be a battle. Both groups are supposed to be people experts, and you need to get along and support each other.
Find out if you don’t understand why the recruiting process is X. Work together to make recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retention work.
And, FYI, the flip side is also true – when recruiters undermine HR, employees lose respect for both groups.
What to say instead: “Tell me what parts frustrate you, and let’s work with the talent acquisition team. They, of course, will be better at explaining the process, but we all want to work together.”
2. “I don’t handle paperwork. My role is strategic. Now, what we should do here is …”
What the employees hear: “I don’t care about your problems at all.”
The larger the organization, the more likely this is to be true. So, if it’s true, you should be able to say it, right?
Just like the TA/HR fight, the paperwork vs. strategy battle rages as well. HR is paperwork heavy – and there’s not a thing HR can do about it. People have to be paid. They have to receive benefits. Hours have to be tracked. The government demands reports. It has to be done.
The average employee doesn’t notice at all when those things go smoothly. But, boy oh boy, do they notice if their paycheck is wrong. (Cue HR Business partner: “That’s payroll! They report to finance! Stop blaming me!”)
To employees, it’s all the same organization. And an organization that messes up someone’s paycheck or health insurance can’t be trusted to provide strategic guidance.
When I was new in HR, I had the pleasure of working for Denise Peppard, who used to tell us that if we can’t get the paperwork right, no one will trust us with the higher-level work. She was right then, and HR needs to remember that now. Ignoring paperwork problems will destroy your relationship with managers and employees.
What to say instead: “I’m so sorry about that. Here’s how we can fix it …” (Even if that is just a referral to an 800 number for your outsourced benefits group.)
3. “I’m not the decision maker here; I’m just doing what the CEO wants.”
What the employees hear: “The CEO doesn’t trust me and my ideas, so you probably shouldn’t listen to me either.”
Again, this is a true statement. HR is always subject to company leadership, but this kind of statement just announces that you’re a worthless lackey without input or influence.
“What? That is completely untrue! I do have influence; it’s just that the CEO overrides my good judgment and …”
If you can hear yourself sputtering that, you can see why it’s a problem. If you want managers to think you have influence and you want to have influence, you need to act like you do. The CEO does have the final say, but you need to be fully on board with whatever that decision is. Your battle is behind closed doors.
Just as you can’t hide behind policy, you can’t hide behind the CEO. You need to be all-in in public. If that’s not possible, find a new job where you can be all-in.
What to say instead: “Yes, the leadership team decided to do X. How can I help you with this change?”
The TL;DR version of this whole article is to lead rather than follow, take responsibility, and take action. It makes for a much better HR department; as a bonus, people will respect you more.
Frequently asked questions
- Why is the communication style of HR professionals critical to their relationship with employees?
- The words and phrases HR professionals choose are crucial, and certain expressions can significantly undermine employee trust and confidence. By avoiding these, HR can foster a more supportive environment.
- How can HR improve interactions regarding company policies?
- Instead of using dismissive phrases like "It’s Company Policy, I Can't..." HR should aim to communicate more transparently by explaining the reasons behind certain policies. This approach shows employees that there are rational bases for these rules, making them more likely to understand and comply. Additionally, if HR professionals personally disagree with a policy, they should still present a united front with the company's stance but also be open to discussing employee concerns and potentially advocating for future changes.
- What are some examples of phrases that HR should avoid?
- Examples include "Please Copy Me on Everything…", "Look, It’s Company Policy, I Can't…", "I Know I Promised This to You, But…", and others that imply a lack of responsibility or understanding on HR’s part.
- What impact do these phrases have within the organization?
- These phrases can erode trust and respect for HR, making employees feel unsupported and potentially fostering a negative work environment.
- How can HR professionals improve trust and confidence with their colleagues in the workplace?
- HR leaders should communicate more transparently, take responsibility for both strategic and administrative roles, support collaboration between HR and other departments like TA, and fully back executive decisions to maintain trust within the organization.