So then...

About Me

Welcome to my blog. My pen name is Eva James. I'm an aspiring writer paying the bills working as a legal secretary. Relentlessly bullied by my former boss, I looked for another job but the recession hit. Feeling trapped, I recorded everything in this blog, which serves as a revealing insight into workplace bullying. WEEK 1 starts the story and, as the weeks progress, you'll note what starts as banter soon spirals out of control. Sadly, it's all true. Whilst along the way I've found alternative employment, my passion for blogging about workplace bullying remains. Trevor Griffiths, legendary theatre, TV and film writer said at the outset, "I like the writing a lot: smart, cool, placed. If you were prepared/able to take your prick of a boss on, you'd marmelise him."

Monday, 22 August 2011

WEEK 186 A Spoonful of Sugar

This week I’ve been asked to guest blog on Katherine Connolly’s ‘Keeping HR Simple’ website. It’s very kind of her. I’m posting the blog here too because the role of HR is often controversial - especially when people have turned to HR for help with a workplace bully.

Kudos to Katherine! She knows I regularly give HR a hard time on Twitter, so it’s refreshing to see someone relishing the opportunity to listen - and put their own side across. This could be very interesting.

So here’s my take on HR:-

I believe that, for HR to work as intended, it has to be the middleman. HR has to win the trust of the CEO and the office junior. I’ve seen countless misunderstandings caused by this conflict of interest. And it’s a deliberate conflict of interest isn’t it? Paid for by the boss? The boss knows that employees want someone senior to take their problems to. If we take HR out of the equation, then the problems are going to land at his/her feet.

“Perish the thought!” says the boss.

Worst case scenario is that if there’s no-one to listen to the daily frustrations and needs of the workforce, they might then come up with their own answers.

“Perish the thought!” says the boss.

HR’s job then, surely, is to deflect conflict away from the boss and reassure staff that “I understand, but this is just the way things are here, I’m afraid.”

I know it’s a challenging viewpoint, so I’d be interested in your opinion. I’ve got a feeling the debate is going to be anything but simple. Am I right? Is HR is simply sugar coated management to help make the corporate medicine go down?

What do you think?

Best wishes



allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...

Cross posting the comment I made over at 'Keeping HR Simple' -

I absolutely agree that HR has an inbuilt conflict of interest and in my experience, (as a manager in the public sector) this is not recognised and as a result, HR officers are not trained to deal with it.

Mind you that is just the start. HR's role as 'facillitator' can often degrade into a role as 'black hole' for difficult problems. Because of a blurring of the roles of managers' decision making and HR officers 'advising' on those decisions HR officers can end up with more power than was formally intended and that they are trained for.

Most HR officers have an admin background. Nowt wrong with that of course, every team I've worked in has stood or fallen on the strength of its admin but admin isn't the same as management. And as I say, not being trained in management issues they can't deal with them and 'difficult' cases tend to find their way to the bottom of the pile.

Add to this that disputes and appeals are often (in the public sector at least) escalated quickly to senior management who, as Eva has pointed out, aren't really interested and frankly no longer have the skills or knowledge of people management either and HR officers who play their cards right can have considerable personal power.

As I say this is very much a culture problem but individuals' actions perpetuate a culture. The responsibility is primarily management's but a professional HR officer should be aware of the limits of their role and stay within them.

Fiona WordsBird said...

Last year, just days after I'd started a short term contract with an employer, I found my new line manager Sally hunched at her desk, trembling and pale. Never one for pecking-orders, I steered her by the shoulders and took her out for a walk.

She was being bullied by our department manager Josie, and in desperation she had gone to HR for advice. Senior HRO Karen worked on some objectives for Sally, and advised keeping a log.

The bullying continued, Josie cancelled every meeting to discuss the objectives, and now Sally had been summoned to a meeting with Karen and the MD, yet another woman called Mary whose official remit included 'employee welfare'.

Sally was terrified of this meeting, as she was sure she would be sacked. I asked if anyone had told her she could have a witness at the meeting. No, they hadn't.

First clue to me that something was not right. (Bearing in mind, I'd not witnessed any of the bullying, being too new!)

So I took notes at that meeting. Josie was on holiday, which should have been a good thing - except that when her lies about Sally were repeated by Karen, and denied by Sally, Josie was not there to look ashamed.

Sally survived the meeting, but had 4 weeks added to her probationary period. Mary stated her 'horror' that Sally had been able to 'get into this state' and earnestly told her to 'come to me if you're ever this anxious again'.

The fact that she stopped short of any further involvement was the second sign of endemic issues.

Two weeks later, after more bullying and avoiding actual meetings to discuss the situation, Josie abruptly sacked Sally and frogmarched her from the building.

Neither Josie nor Karen has been able to look me in the eye since.

Imagine what MY take on HR is now!

Bullied By The Boss said...

That's a very valid point by allnottinghambasearebelongtous about HR not being trained to deal with such conflicts of interest, as well as the 'black hole' for difficulties and the natural absorbtion of power this brings.

There's much food for thought here for my follow up blog on Thursday.

I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph. I really couldn't have put it better myself!

Huge thanks to Fiona WordsBird for the personal example. It's through shared experiences like this that HR's potential for damage is clear, when they're not properly trained. It's like the worst case of before and after picture.

The 'before' picture is an employee with a genuine problem, visibly anxious about bullying enough to warrant a third party intervention. The 'after' picture is the same person losing their job. No wonder HR are unable to look Fiona in the eye.

But as the first commenter points out, many start out in HR from an admin background with good intentions and little training. Therefore Sally found herself literally shoved into HR's black hole of too difficult to deal with.

This is such an interesting and important topic, I'm going to try and rally some more comments and then come back to this on Thursday.

allnottinghambasearebelongtous said...

If you want to read about my personal experiences the links to my blog post are here

If you'd like to go straight to the employment tribunal statement of reasons that's here, my comments on it are in part 6

Doesn't mention HR much but bear in mind all the management actions were on the 'advice' of HR.

Oh, it's fair to warn you that it's 50 pages long...

Bullied By The Boss said...

Thanks allnottinghambasearebelongtous! I'm grateful to you for the link to your personal experience and Tribunal statement.

Thanks so much for sharing it with me. It wouldn't matter if it was 1150 pages - that's what Bank Holiday weekends are for!

I hope you like today's post, summing up all the comments left.

Very best wishes to you all


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