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Human Resources Is Not Your Friend.
This Is What HR Is

A blue background with Hacking HR's logo and in the center the text: "HR is not you friend. This is what HR is
Hacking HR Team

Posted on December 22, 2023

We never hear "marketing is not your friend."

We never see the headline on the front page of a business magazine: "Sales is not your friend."

We never hear hallway gossip, "IT is not your friend."

Anyone at work would rarely hold any business function in contempt for not being their "friend."

But, for some reason (unknown to me, to be honest), we hear a lot of "HR is not your friend,"... and it always comes in a negative context as if to say, "Don't trust HR because HR is not your friend and it doesn't have your back."

HR Is Not Your Friend

At work, personal trust for leaders or each other, or trust for a business unit's capacity to deliver its work, and trust, in general, have never been a function of "friendship." Trust at work can exist and thrive well without friendship being a precondition.

However, there is an (unfounded and erroneous) expectation that for HR to be effective in its work and to deliver results, it must be your "friend"... And this is not true.

It is important to understand that this does not mean that HR cannot be your friend because it can or that you must label HR on the opposite end of the spectrum from friendship as your enemy because you do not. It just means that -just like any other business function- HR does not have to be anyone's "friend" to get the job done. Instead, HR must care. And HR does not need to be the "friend" to care.

HR can and does care for you without being your friend. The standard by which someone measures HR's effectiveness in delivering its work and care for them should not depend on the indicator "Is HR my friend: yes or no?".

HR Must Care For The Company And The People

In addition, the unreasonable expectation that HR must be your friend also turned into another misconception: that HR only protects the company's interests and not the people.

Well, I am not sure how your job is designed, but HR must care for the company and the people simultaneously, just as much as you can care for other people at work but also for the actual products you were hired to deliver.

I do not know why it is so hard to understand that HR cannot really care for the people if it does not care for the company; it cannot care for the company if it does not really care for the people. I get it: this is a fine line that most other functions, and certainly almost all people outside of HR, do not understand because they do not have to deal with it. And thus, they judge our journey from their own perspective.

Caring for the people and the business simultaneously is a fine line that no other function must walk so mindfully and diligently as HR does (and is expected to). This does not mean we always get it right because I know we do not, and we do not have to get it right all the time (that is an impossibility causing the highest levels of burnout, stress, depression, turnover, and sadness in this field). This does not mean that we will not make mistakes because we do. And it does not mean that we do not deeply care about you because we do.

HR can be your friend. However, the bottom line of my post is that HR does not have to be your friend for you to trust that it has your back (and the back of the business, and that one is not mutually exclusive with the other). In the same way that you are not expected to be someone's friend to get your job done, please do not expect this from HR. It is wonderful when friendship emerges at work, but that is not the default expectation for anyone (and it should not be for HR either). However, it is certainly a reasonable expectation that you should have from HR and others at work for them to create the conditions for you to feel that you belong and the opportunities to build meaningful connections.

But if HR is not supposed to be your "friend," then what is it?

This is what HR actually is

  • A Strategic Partner

Indeed, HR is not your “friend.” Instead, HR is your strategic partner. HR helps you solve your business challenges and explore and amplify your business opportunities with people-centered solutions. HR is your business ally, and it happens to wear the people hat. Focus on building a relationship of trust and transparency with HR. In this way, you can ensure you receive HR strategic support to help you deliver better results and achieve your business goals.

  • A Coach

You would not necessarily expect to become “friends” with your therapist or coach. Instead, you expect to receive the kind of guidance meant to help you grow and improve genuinely. That is the way you have to see your relationship with HR. It is not that you cannot be “friends.” Rather, it is that you should focus on building a coaching relationship and not a friendship. HR can be your coach but do not expect it to be your friend. HR does not need to be your friend to be a great coach.

  • A Friendly Advocate (But Not a Friend)

HR is not designed to be your friend, nor should you have that expectation. Your role is not designed to be anybody else’s friend, either. It is wonderful when friendships and meaningful relationships emerge in the workplace, but that cannot be the default expectation. Instead, the expectation should be for everyone to be treated with kindness, compassion, dignity, and respect. That is what I mean by “friendly.” And that is a reasonable expectation you should have for your HR partners.

  • A Champion of People... and Business

Without the business, the jobs would not exist. Without the people in those jobs, the business would not exist. HR must walk and operate in the fine line between business and people operations. HR must ensure that the business succeeds and it does it with people. HR is a business leader with a people hat. HR must have your interests in mind…and those of the business. And that is very hard to do. HR delivers its best value when it is an advocate of healthy business operations with a people-centered culture. Do not try to make HR just about employees because that is not what it is supposed to be. Neither just for the business. It can be both. And it is both.

  • A Caring Supporter

HR genuinely cares for you, and it cares for the organization as well. This is not a false dichotomy. This is HR’s most important operational and strategic tenet: to do as much as possible, and as best as possible, to make people and businesses succeed together, simultaneously. HR does not need to be your friend to care about you and your success. When it comes to your success, HR exists (in part) to provide the opportunities for your growth and development and to create a workplace that allows for that to happen, with the hopes that, in return, your own growth and development fuels company success.

  • A Value Creator

HR is your partner to create value. Value comes in many different forms: helping leaders achieve business goals, supporting managers in managing their teams and delivering results, and helping people grow and develop. HR creates this value with several actions: architecting an amazing people-centered and business-oriented corporate culture, offering people solutions to business problems, designing solid learning and development programs, creating the right career management frameworks for good people to become managers, and a lot more. That is how HR creates value. HR does not create value by becoming a friend. HR creates value by keeping you and your well-being in mind and ensuring you have the tools to deliver your work and help the business win.

  • A Face of Company's Decisions (Even When We Don't Agree or Like Those Decisions)

Very often, HR is tasked with the responsibility of communicating decisions made by senior leaders (the board or C-suite). Some of these decisions are tough, and communicating them is not less hard. Do not blame HR for the tough choices an organization has to make. HR must advocate for business and people. And, sometimes, depending on the circumstances, HR must advocate a little bit more for the business or a little bit more for the people. It is not easy for HR to communicate difficult decisions, especially when they did not make those decisions or, more so, when they do not agree or like them. I hope your organization gives HR a voice when those decisions are made, but that is not always the case.

  • Not Your Direct Manager

HR does not exist to replace the responsibility that leaders and direct managers have with their teams and people. Often, HR is blamed (by everyone, including leaders and managers) for poor managerial and leadership styles and decisions. HR definitely must help people and teams, and leaders and managers. But HR is not supposed to replace their role. Ensure you keep your managers and leaders accountable for their work instead of blaming HR for their shortcomings and mistakes.

Bonus: What HR is not responsible for

Lastly, I will end this post with a list of ten things a lot of people think HR is responsible for... and we are really not:

  • Babysitting people or leaders to do what they are supposed to do and are responsible for doing

  • Predicting everything that will happen in the future and how it may impact people and company

  • Miraculously solving problems on the spot

  • Being the party organizer (and then the fun police)

  • Single-handedly defining and promoting company culture

  • Doing a direct manager’s work with their teams

  • Solving people’s problems alone

  • Telepathically knowing what leaders need and employees want

  • Managing the performance of people and teams (that’s the direct manager’s role!)

  • Alone fixing mental health and well-being challenges caused by poor leadership and management

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