I loved my job really I did! | HR Memories

Courtesy of the student blog at blog.lib.umn.edu

Courtesy of the student blog at blog.lib.umn.edu

I spent many years as the head of a Human Resources function in a mid-sized company. The department is responsible for being an advocate for the employee and the company. That’s like being for and against something at the same time. In reality policies that are good for the employee are good for the company. Happy employees are the goal. Oh yeah, next to earnings.

Over the course of my years, I was involved in many….ummm….interesting situations. Here are a few of the more bizarre.

Declining date requests – If the wrong (not a stud muffin) person invited someone out, I was asked to intervene under the guise of harassment. Really? Whatever happened to just saying, “No, I’m not interested?” I had to do this more times than I care to remember. Sometimes it was just an innocent request for lunch (no date). The employee who chatters endlessly in the lunchroom could not get up the courage to say no thanks.

The shoulder rubs – Again under the guise of harassment; I had an employee approach me about her manager. (All the little hairs on my neck stood up!) Her manager was close to 75 and an old-timer. Old-timers were the worst when it came to proper behavior in the office. As it turns out, this employee was complaining because he used to rub her shoulders but lately had transferred his attention to a younger employee. She was complaining that he WASN’T rubbing her shoulders anymore. Obviously all shoulder rubbing was stopped and everyone hated me.

Unsolicited loans – Again under the guise of harassment, an employee approached me about a male employee who gave her $50 because she was short money for her rent. She said it was creepy. He wasn’t creepy at all. What was creepy was that she would whine about not having money to pay her rent; someone helped her out; and she slapped him with a complaint. I asked if she accepted it. She said yes. I told her to pay it back and counseled him to keep his money to himself. Everyone hated me.

It’s in the policy – Whenever we changed a policy we made the change public in several different ways – emails, announcements, employee meetings and in newsletters. People wouldn’t pay attention until it affected them. Then they would complain (and of course blame HR). One employee accused me of making a change in health benefits (the carrier made the change nationally) just so she wouldn’t be covered for a drug (as if I know what drugs employees are taking). Another accused me of changing severance policies although we didn’t change it. What really happened was that he voluntarily changed his status to part-time a few years earlier and no longer qualified for severance. Everyone hated me.

Human Resources is both a rewarding and unappreciated department. Sometimes you can make a minor correction that makes a major change. Sometimes you can help an employee reach a goal. You can watch people grow.

Employees will do things that surprise you. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise and sometimes it will annoy the hell out of you but you can’t take it personally.

Usually employees only hated me for a short time. Then something good would happen and all was forgiven except maybe for those shoulder rubs. I am not sure the affected employees ever forgave me for that.

Despite these examples (and I have a lot more), I also have very rewarding stories that maybe I’ll share one day.

34 thoughts on “I loved my job really I did! | HR Memories

  1. I’m sure HR tries to walk the line between advocating for the employer and the employee, but since the employer pays the salaries, I think it’s probably weighted heavier toward the employer.

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    • Not necessarily. I’ve been in exec meetings when something is discussed and I calmly announce that it’s illegal or counterproductive for employees. At least in our company there were many painful discussions when it came to surviving yet keeping employees satisfied. Payroll is the biggest expense to a company and it behooves them to keep employees satisfied. But it is a business and downsizings must happen for the health of both the company and the remaining employees. The problem with HR work is that if you are doing your job sometimes both sides hate you.

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  2. I could not imagine not liking you! You seem very pleasant and you were only doing your job! I have had several areas in my life where I could have called for “help!” from HR, but like you, I feel that most of us should be, as adults, able to handle situations! I would never pursue harassment charges or have HR intervene for me! But it made your job interesting and bizarre! Smiles, Robin

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  3. I really loved this…your candor on the what’s appropriate thing…the guy giving money for rent…that was kind…I truly would never have taken it as an insult. What a nice fella.

    And anyone over 75 deserves a pass. I mean there were covered wagons when he was born.
    HR has taken the concept of politically incorrect to new heights.

    I remember when a casting agent rubbed up against me and my agent said, was he wearing his pants? See, this made all the difference 30 years ago…lol

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    • I know! It was a different time. When I started working I learned fast how to deal with the old lechers and I could do it without offending anyone. An observation I have made is that the newer generation (at least some) appear to be more self confident but they can’t always communicate face-to-face. Perhaps that’s because so much is done on technology. A lot of people came to me with an issue about someone else. The first thing I say is, “Did you tell them?” They would answer that they didn’t because they didn’t want to hurt feelings. My response was, “Don’t you think it will hurt their feelings when they get called into my office and I tell them?” The truth was that they didn’t want to see it happen. They really didn’t care about feelings.

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  4. The shoulder rubbing story cracked me up. As an employee of a organizational development consulting firm that works closely with HR people at various organizations, I feel pretty close to that function. I’ll tell you what… I wouldn’t look cross-eyed at a female co-worker much less touch her. I won’t even stand in her cubicle without invitation (and our cubicles are spacious).

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    • Very smart man. I have very mixed feelings about harassment laws. Most people don’t understand them at all. Yes, they are needed for cases that are truly harassment. However (and that’s a BIG however) being mean to everyone or having favorites (unless it affects employment) is not illegal. Nor is asking anyone out for date or everything involving a minority. We completely eliminated a function that wasn’t cost effective. It displaced 5 minorities. We offered positions in other departments or a severance. One employee took one of the other jobs (but left after a month without any severance). The other 4 refused the severance and filed a lawsuit. Of course they lost. They also lost the severance package so they ended up with nothing. I would have advised them to take the money and run but anything I say is suspect. Over the years I counseled a lot of employees (including execs) on how to leave the company with good references and the best possible $$. The difference between resigning on the last day of the month and the first day of the next month is a month’s worth of health benefits. You obviously pulled my string on this one. Truly, HR (at least when I’m there) isn’t the enemy.

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  5. Some of the points you made are reasons I left HR, Kate. But the main reason I suppose was I could no longer deal with stupid people. Why should I have to tell a grown woman that wearing her pajamas to work is inappropriate? How many times do I need to tell someone if they are consistently 15 minutes late to work every day, just leave your house 15 minutes earlier!

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    • Oh yes, I remember those conversations. We didn’t allow flip flops. If I had a dollar for every conversation about flip-flops I had we could go to Paris for lunch. Yes, that’s Paris, France. There was one employee who kept telling me she couldn’t wear shoes because of menopause. She works somewhere else now. One of my best friends worked with me at one company (I wasn’t in HR then). She was always 15 minutes late. She lived 40 minutes away. She got a new job that was 2 blocks from her home and yep, she continued to be 15 minutes late for work.

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  6. For a brief amount of time, I worked in the HR department of a corporation that employed over 25,000 people. The HR department was broken down into mini-functions within the department, and my little corner of the world was reserved for those people that were being bonded (to handle single-transaction monetary tasks that exceeded one million per transaction). In other words, they were being scrutinized very closely.

    Nothing is more fun than sitting across the desk from someone, asking them the details of their shoplifting arrest (that happened back when they were 17 years old and they thought got expunged only it didn’t) and that they failed to disclose, despite being warned that failure to disclose ALL history could lead to immediate termination.

    I’m no expert on psychology, but it seemed to me that time would prove that those people that didn’t mind disclosing all their past indiscretions (and who subsequently sailed through the hiring process) were actually the LEAST trustworthy (because they had no shame, and seemed to somehow live with an “I can get away with anything” attitude), whereas those that were left sniffling into a tissue because they were overwhelmed with remorse and shame because they failed to pay that parking ticket while visiting their sister in Maine … well, they either never got hired in the first place, or if they did manage to squeak through, all while hanging their head in shame and being beaten down with many a furrowed brow wrinkled pensively in their direction, then they would invariably turn out to be the most loyal and trustworthy of the bunch. Of course, it didn’t always turn out that way. Sometimes people disclosed things they never happened.

    I was only in that area for about ten months, (while waiting for a position to open up in my chosen field), but it was a true learning experience. Much can be accomplished when just the tiniest bit of compassion is extended towards a person, and sometimes, careers are built on being willing to look beyond the mistakes of the past, and putting your trust in someone’s future.

    Disclosure is a funny business, where everything is secretive and covert and there always seems to be a subversive agenda in motion. Where the process is built around uncovering those things that people usually want to keep hidden, and where the financial backbone of the corporation is at stake, every day of the week. The funniest part of the whole thing was that I was ever even a small part of the Disclosure Screening Process. Let’s just say that I was what was affectionately referred to as a “two-pager”. 🙂

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    • As the head I got involved in disclosure issues for executives and that was always interesting. Sometimes I made the decision to keep it private because it wasn’t a business issue and sometimes I had to inform the CEO and let him make the decision. (By the way, he idea of making the decision was saying, “What do you think we should do?”)

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  7. I think that most people are endlessly fascinated by the real story of what goes on in HR. Other people’s foibles are so much fun to learn about/laugh at.

    I am reminded of Jenny Lawson’s book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. If the Bloggess can write about her experiences in HR [and end up on the NYT bestseller list], then so can you.

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  8. Sounds like the news business. Hate the messenger. In this case, you. Some funny stuff, but it’s too bad that some didn’t “shoulder” the responsibility of being upfront with those they were upset with.

    I had a co-worker who used to borrow money from me every payday – and it turns out he borrowed from several others, too. When he tried to stall paying me, he knew I was upset and I said as much. He repaid me. Some time later, I just told him I wasn’t going to loan any more money to him.

    It didn’t turn out well for him. Turns out, he had a gambling problem. The company was going to send both of us to a conference out of state and gave us a cash advance. He spent the money, made an excuse why he couldn’t go. The company demanded repayment. When he couldn’t pay as speedily as they wanted, he was fired. Sad. I liked the guy. Very talented.

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    • There are a lot of sad stories like that in the business world. HR tends to get involved in what I call “the underbelly of the company.” We know stuff about people their immediate family doesn’t know. We sent two employees out to a conference (male and female) and they came back a couple. The real problem was that they were married to other people. Oy vay!

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  9. How funny, Kate! Human Resources sounds crazier than any of my former and present jobs ! Really funny and crazy. And a little lonely. Those shoulder rubs had me laughing out loud. I never realized how important they could be in the workplace!

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    • That manager was quirky but likable. He could do or say things that would get others in hot water. He was very old school and had someone fetch him coffee every morning. I always dreaded any complaints about him because I knew they were true. One time he walked up a group of women and asked if anyone wanted to have sex with an old grandfather. Fortunately they all thought it was funny and I didn’t get a complaint. I wasn’t around to witness it but it was relayed to me about a year later. He worked until he died. He was just one of those guys that would have withered if he retired especially after his wife died.

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