How HR Can Avoid Becoming Negative About Employees

These 5 Tips Will Help You Avoid Feelings of Negativity and Cynicism

HR staff must do these five things to avoid becoming cynical.
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Human Resources managers have days that are tough with the employees they serve. That's because when you work with humans you will experience negative behavior. You can, however, take these five recommended actions to avoid feeling negative about employees.  But, first, put HR's situation in context.

Longtime HR people are always amused when interviewing a person who is just starting out in the profession, who answers the “why do you want to work in HR?” question with, “I just love people.” Look, each of us in HR loved people, and then we entered the profession and became HR people.

People often view their HR managers as evil—after all, HR staff are the ones who employees blame for low raises, short breaks, and inflexible work schedules. “HR said no,” a boss will say when explaining to an employee why the hoped-for raise didn't happen.

The reality is, HR did say no, but the manager never gives the true reason. For instance, HR said no because there's no money left in the finance approved annual budget. Or, HR said no because the person hasn't met performance expectations in three years. And, rather than the manager having the guts to say, “You're not eligible for a raise because you aren't performing up to speed,” he simply says, “HR said no.”

Or, a favorite of HR managers, the manager didn't even consult HR, just told the employee he'd check with HR and then three days later told the employee that HR turned down her request for a raise. Yes, it happens—all too frequently.

Because people don't always like HR, it's not shocking that HR staff can become negative and cynical in their interactions with employees. After all, it's not always the lying managers, it's also employees who claim that their 18th grandparent just happened to die over a holiday weekend (sometimes HR does keep track).

And, people who get stuck in traffic four times a week, but, of course, it's not their fault that they are late for work all of the time. (Helpful hint: if you get stuck that often, that's a sign that you need to leave the house earlier.) And, you want to also consider the sexual harassers, the racists, and the people who still haven't learned that IT can see your computer history—even if you clear your browser history.

However, when you expect the worst of people all of the time, you cease to be an effective HR person. Let's not forget the human in Human Resources.

Avoid Becoming Negative and Cynical About Employees

Here are five tips and tricks that you can use to avoid becoming negative and cynical about employees, even in the most difficult of situations. These five tactics will help.

Look at the situation from the employee's perspective. You would not believe the number of phone calls that HR receives that complain that a performance review wasn't high enough. On the flip side, HR has never ever, not even once, received a call saying, “My manager rated me exceeds expectations and I really think I just met them.” What are these employees thinking? Don't they recognize that just doing their jobs isn't exceeding anything

Well, many managers don't give feedback throughout the year, so the employee may not have any idea that her actual performance isn't stellar. Or, managers give positive feedback throughout the year (because that's easier) and save up all the examples of poor performance for the official performance review.

The employee honestly doesn't know that she's not a high performer because no one has ever told her. She also doesn't have access to information on what her coworkers produce, so she can't even do a reliable comparison.

Look for the positive aspects of employee behavior. So, this is the third employee this week whom you've busted for looking at highly inappropriate pictures on their laptops. How many employees are at your site? 1,000? That means 997 employees weren't misbehaving.

Yes, you have to do an investigation to determine if racial discrimination exists in the facilities department.

But, just because an employee filed a complaint doesn't mean that the complaint is justified. Most people are good people. Remember that when you find yourself becoming negative about employees.

Recognize the best. Remember, no one wanders into your office and says, “Can you go talk to Heather? She's always on time and works hard and does a great job.” The Heathers exist. It's not an HR manager's job to discipline the Heathers because they don't need any disciplinary actions.

HR can become cynical and negative about employees because you spend all day, every day, solving problems and dealing with the poor performers—not the best employees.

Try tossing into the daily HR mix rewards for great performance. You don't need to make this a formal process. Shoot an email to the managers you support and ask them to tell you who is doing great things.

When you hear from a manager, send an email to that employee and say, “Hey, I just heard that you did an outstanding job on Project X. Thanks for all that you do." It brightens their day, and it brightens yours. It also helps you remember that 80+ percent of the employees are doing a great job.

Streamline your own work. Are you so bogged down in paperwork that you can hardly see straight? Did your dream of helping others reach their potential really become nothing more than filling out Affirmative Action Plans, signing employee reviews, and writing out performance improvement plans?

Do you have no time for the training and development that is your passion? Well, figure out what you can automate (hint: reports), and what you can delegate (hint: create a template for your performance improvement plans and have the managers fill it out), and you'll find that you have a bit more time to do meaningful activities.

Blame yourself (and your department). Okay, that seems like something only a negative, cynical person would do, but think about it. Remember the first problem—clueless employees? Ask yourself why they are clueless? Because the managers don't know how to manage. Why don't they know how to manage? Get out a mirror and take a look.

The HR department is supposed to contain the experts on the humans in the company. If there are management problems, it's HR's job to fix it. If employees are always coming in late or quitting without giving notice or any number of other bad things, it's likely that HR has set up the rewards system to encourage such behavior.

When you look at the underlying problems and solve those, people will often follow suit. Granted, you'll never reach perfection, but making the company policy and practices better will result in better employees.

For instance, if you have fair pay policies, people are less likely to try to fudge their time cards. If you promote based on merit rather than on who you know, people start working harder and stop sucking up to management. HR should lead the charge to fix any system that enables employees to not do what you want them to do. Blame starts at home.