Human Resources News & Insights

Bad managers blame HR

HR Metrics

When asked the question of why they’re not doing a good job, many managers have a stock reply: “It’s HR’s fault.”

You’ve probably seen it all before.

A supervisor in your organization avoids confronting employees who are slackers, or lets squabbles fester to the point that they threaten the morale and productivity of the group. Maybe you have supervisors who take the nonconfrontational-avoidance approach to the point of hardly ever leaving their offices.

They’re just bad managers, right? Could be. But when the Wall Street Journal surveyed some supervisors who used what could be called “blind-eye management,” a number of them said they behaved that way because they didn’t want to “cause headaches for HR.”

Let’s look at an example of what they mean.

‘Let’s forget it’

Suzie Supervisor walks into the office of the Harry the HR manager and says, “Fred Worker is lazy and has a bad attitude. I’m ready to come down on him hard.”

Harry lets out a sigh. Maybe he complains a little about all the other problems he’s dealing with. He asks Suzie if maybe part of the problem is in the way she deals with Fred. And if Fred is a minority, Harry lowers his voice and warns that firing Fred – or maybe even punishing him – could turn into an administrative and legal nightmare.

Result: Suzie says, “OK, let’s forget it.” She heads back to her office with the firm resolve to let slacker Fred do what he darn well pleases. In an extreme case, Suzie eventually begs out of her supervisor job, and Harry thinks, “She wasn’t a good fit anyway.”

Doing the right thing

All right, so maybe the example is a little dramatic. Most of us want to do the right thing and encourage others to do the right thing. We don’t intentionally push people into becoming bad managers.

But it’s worth listening to managers and taking an approach that makes them feel as if they’re partners with HR, not enemies:

– Give managers their legal and practical options. You may get someone who says, “I want to fire him now!” You know that’s not always do-able, for a lot of reasons, and you should explain why and what the alternative is.

But it’s worth listening to managers and taking an approach that makes them feel as if they’re partners with HR, not enemies:

– Give managers their legal and practical options. You may get someone who says, “I want to fire him now!” You know that’s not always do-able, for a lot of reasons, and you should explain why and what the alternative is.
– Give managers the positives and negatives – and there are always positives and negatives — of any taking action with a problem employee. That places you in a complementary role, without taking over the decision-making role.

– If the manager takes in your advice and makes a decision to action, offer your support and ask if there’s anything you can do to make the process go as smooth as possible.

Some managers are always going to blame somebody else for their inability to deal with problems and problem employees. That’s a given, and it’s partly human nature.

What you’re trying to accomplish is to make sure you’ve done what you need to do to help managers, without discouraging them or making it appear you’re taking over or encouraging them to shirk their responsibilities.

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  • http://www.silverlinewindows.com Juan Gomez

    This is my first issue I have received, I enjoy the easy to read such incredible information!
    Thank you very much!!!

  • Bill Fuller

    Actually, that vignette is not dramatic. In 30 years as a supervisor, and another 12 years as an HR director, I have seen and experienced many situations as dramatic as that one. As a supervisor, I found HR departments irrelevant , even destructive. I’ve heard an HR director (female) tell one of my female employees to “suck it up” when she complained of sexual harassment, and a CEO fail to back me when I disciplined an up and coming male supervisor for trading preferential treatment for sex. With one exception over the years, my HR departments were paperwork functionaries, not problem solvers. I learned to ignore them. Most managers tell me they share my opinion.

    As an HR director, I have tried to create a culture that mirrors the advice you offered in this article. Our culture adheres to the law, and goes beyond it in seeking humane and productive solutions. Some managers resent the processes we follow in order to be fair to workers and limit legal liability. I’m certain that some ignore problems rather than do the hard work of proceeding appropriately. I worry that sooner or later that is going to get us in serious trouble. I must add, however, that most of the managers I work with appreciate my help even though it complicates their lives.

  • Jacqueline Paulk

    Very sound advise and very timely as I make the transition from an administrative role to a more HR Business Partner role.

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