Here we go again…HR Represents WHO?


So, there I was, minding my own business when I came across another article (Advocate For the Employee, or the Employer? Which Is It HR? about the advocacy question…Who does HR really advocate for? I swear – no, not like cussing swear – more like, “I can’t believe this is even a conversation topic” – I cannot understand where this confusion is coming from.  I posted a video blog earlier where I clearly outlined some clear expectations for you – my audience – and potential clients. I made it pretty clear where I stand on this question.

I couldn’t resist the temptation – so I posted a comment on the website to express my opinion, because yes, I have one – and a very passionate one at that. Here is the comment I posted:

Yes, this is a great article, however, at the end of the day, the Human Resources professional is an agent of the organization. If HR people want to be employee advocates, then they should go work for a union. I don’t believe that stating the fact that we are agents of the organization forces us into a divide between management and employees – UNLESS we act and make decisions in such a manner that sends that message. As agents of the organization, we are tasked with mitigating exposure to risk and liability. The awesomeness of this job and position is that we get to devise and implement strategies, programs and processes that create and support a healthy and positive work environment and culture that – wait for it – results in actions that advocate for the employee. See? It’s not a matter of us versus them unless we make it so through our actions and words. But, the fact remains, we are employed by the organization, we are agents of the organization…and with that position comes great responsibility. Sorry if this is contrary or controversial, but I hate it when I ask entry level HR people why they got into HR and they tell me because they want to advocate for employees. Well then, my answer is, “go work for the union.”

Not surprisingly at all, I haven’t received a response from the author yet. The article does make some good points, BUT I disagree with most of them. LOL! Yes, I have seen a sharp divide between HR and front line staff, and leadership and front line staff in many organizations. Please know that these lines have been drawn by people’s actions and words. They have not been drawn by the simple fact that HR people are in fact representatives, agents, advocates, whatever you want to label it – FOR THE ORGANIZATION.  If you look at some EEOC cases where the HR people were deeply involved in a major screw-up, EEOC has always and in my opinion, will always point to HR as the agent of the organization. I have yet to read a case or hear about one where EEOC has labeled HR as being the savior of the employees.

As HR Professionals, we really need to be careful with this. I’ve made some serious mistakes in my career where I mistakenly thought I was responsible for employee advocacy first and foremost. I wanted to be that bridge between the company and the employees. I took a stance for an employee and was not-so-gently reminded by my leadership and by outside counsel that I was in fact there to represent the company. I wanted to make the employees feel like we really were there for them. The biggest mistake I made was actually living that ideology. Had I lived on the other side of that, my actions in ensuring that the organization was well protected against risk and liability would have resulted in employee advocacy actions regardless! That’s the point I keep trying to make.

I really hate to beat this horse further into the realm of the dead – but I get twisted into a serious pretzel when I read articles like this one. Yes – I did just say that.

Tell me what you think…I promise I won’t get all twisted up if you disagree. I thoroughly enjoy the exchange of ideas. Perhaps someone out there will – someday – be able to change my mind on this topic. Maybe…

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