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No. 79 – How can I trust HR when managers with complaints get promoted?

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5 October 2022

I work for a major university and in the past five years I know of two individuals (who don’t know each other) who have made a complaint to HR about a manager. Afterwards, both individuals have left and the manager in question has been promoted. I know that HR do a lot more than take complaints from staff but is the notion that staff can confide in an HR representative a fallacy?

Another staff member went to HR, suffering from extreme anxiety and this was interpreted as a threat to ask for compensation, so her manager gave her a “warning”. Does HR only pretend to be our friend when they are really there to protect the organisation?

Since writing this column, I’ve noticed HR has a bad reputation amongst some employees which is a real shame. Yet as I read your examples, and so many others sent in, I can see why a lack of trust exists.

In my experience, the best HR leaders, and there are many out there, are able to navigate the fine line between maintaining employee trust and confidence while also being responsible to the organisation. They are strategic leaders who understand the success of an HR function, and trust of those they support, depends on it. This means while HR is ultimately responsible to the CEO and therefore the organisation, they understand balancing the rights and concerns of employees is how they can help protect the organisation.

A talented HR professional is able to find outcomes, especially in sensitive and difficult situations, where both the employee and the organisation can walk away feeling respected and heard. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like the HR support your colleagues have received is anything like that so rebuilding trust, whether with you or others, is going to be a long, slow road from here.

After a complex project I’d been working on ended, an important external stakeholder identified a problem and contacted my boss for a “please explain”. I was asked to provide a forensic account of my work, proving the mistake had been the stakeholder’s and not mine. But the stakeholder took no accountability and instead blamed the problem on me. I am confident my boss believes my account but they are not in a position to push this with the stakeholder.

Meanwhile, I need to keep working with someone I have good reason to believe lied to protect themself. My trust is shattered. I’m often asked to go above and beyond for this stakeholder who has behaved, in my opinion, with a complete lack of integrity. What do you suggest?

First things first, I think you need to confirm with your boss that they do believe your account and understand this situation is not a reflection on your work or you. Knowing that your boss has your back, especially in case this happens again, is going to be crucial for your ability to move on. When you have that conversation with your boss, you should ask them what they suggest you do to ensure the same accusations cannot be made in the future given the history of working with this person. It sounds like the stakeholder is going to be difficult and that will be easier for you to deal with if you know you are not alone, your boss has your back and you have a plan in place.

As I approach my mid-60s, I’m faced with the question of how long I should keep working. My work is mostly interesting, pays well and I’m good at it. However, there are other things I want to do with my life, and with my wife, and so the longer I work, the more our post-working life shrinks. I can’t make a decision – any advice to get over my inertia is appreciated!

I am going to go out on a limb and suspect your wife will support this response – time to retire and enjoy life. You have worked hard for at least four decades to enjoy this time and it sounds like the good times are ready to begin. I also recommend leaving while the choice is yours. This is a period of your life for you to go and enjoy. Have fun!

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