HR Zone magazine wrote a short article this week called “Can You Keep a Secret?” after a Mars Drinks Office Connections survey revealed HR Practitioners were the most likely to divulge personal information about colleagues. The results were as follows:
“While an average of 33.6% of those questioned had divulged private information to a co-worker, the figure rose to 37.6% among HR practitioners”.
The article raised more questions than it answered. The writer didn’t touch on whether this was appropriate or consider whether this was something that should be addressed. A spokesperson for Mars put a happy spin on it, commenting that it was heartening, in a world of technology, that people are still effectively chatting by the water-cooler.
The problem is, of course, is that it is HR’s job to be privy to private and sensitive information about staff. I found out the hard way. The most extreme example of this can be found in the transcript behind my WEEK 34 blog, Boutros Boutros Ghali (where I covertly recorded my bullying boss and the Practice Manager/HR being particularly spiteful). HR, laughing along with my boss, also joked about sensitive, personal information revealed privately to her by a former colleague. I still find it shocking that the transcript, reflecting the outrageous levels of bullying, also shows HR delighting in the personal problems of someone else.
It’s a lack of training, of course.
And perhaps HR forgets that people often reveal personal details only because they have to. Employees must give reasons for illness or explain a request for a few days off work at short notice. Employees are usually cajoled into talking to HR if they’re visibly angry or upset in work - whether it’s work or something personal that’s caused it. As time goes by, perhaps HR believes people confide in them, not because for their job, but for their friendship. Therefore, information may have been given on a conversational, rather than a confidential, basis.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
We all know how HR often turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to workplace bullying. That’s the nature of the job in many workplaces. So in this context I can’t offer a better suggestion for HR to adopt than the three wise monkeys’ proverb:
“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”
They’ve got the first two mastered well enough.