Can you ever really be friends with your HR manager?

In this posting from the LinkedIn Agency Influencer program, Publicis Media's Alex Delehunt wonders whether it's wise to get to know staff in the human resource department

Following on from my previous article (What I Wish Someone Told Me Before Starting in HR), some of the comments from people got me thinking if you can (and should you) be friends with your HR manager?

As a HR person myself, I have felt first hand the divide between the HR team and the rest of the office. It’s not a personality thing (I don’t think!), but rather they view you as ‘the other’ who will judge their every move and maybe have to have tough conversations with them one day. Is this a good thing to keep a casual distance?

Publicis Media’s Alex Delehunt

If you ever find yourself actually getting along with your HR manager (shockingly, we’re real people too and can have friends!) there are some things you may want to remember. And the main one is the magical word: CONFIDENTIAL.

If you’re telling your HR manager that you feel like you’re experiencing bullying at work, we have a duty of care to look into this. But if you’re just feeling annoyed with a comment your manager made, then this is fine to vent about but say, “Hey, let’s just keep this one confidential.” Imagine it like we’re your lawyer or a journalist! Where our professional integrity is at risk, we won’t breach the trust between friends.

On the pros list of being chummy with the HR team is that there is a chance we can help you with your career.

We know the processes and policies inside and out. You may have forgotten about that exchange program submission deadline or the health fund benefit but this can easily come up when your HR manager better understands you and what you are interested in. Simply mentioning, “Oh I saw this course that looks great” could be the catalyst to you actually going on it.

HR managers do need to be careful here though, so if you ever feel like your HR pal is holding something back, it’s because we can’t look like we’re playing favourites. Anything you communicate to your work friends should be common knowledge and can only be done with general processes and policies.

On the flip side, HR managers can sometimes feel guarded around you, too! We have to be careful of what we say during casual chats.

After a few Friday night drinks, it’s easy enough to slip up and perhaps mention something that you really shouldn’t have. So if you wouldn’t say it over lunch, then don’t say it over drinks.

Some tips for HR managers:

  • Make the effort with everyone – that way you can mitigate the amount of perceived favouritism
  • If you do make close friends and an issues arises such as performance management, let your manager know there is a conflict. This is what you have a team/senior management for.
  • Watch what you say – avoid the work chat where you can
  • Don’t engage in the gossip – being neutral and fair is HR 101
  • Show your human side – employees will find it far easier to relate to you if there is some common ground

Ben Eubanks tweeted that “HR should be friends with staff. Problems with that are the exception, not the rule” which I wholeheartedly agree with.

I’ve been very lucky to work in an environment where making friends with the employees is highly encouraged. We’ve found that at Publicis Media being more integrated into the office has helped with our engagement. When I hear friends in other company’s mention they couldn’t even name their HR people I find it really surprising.

They often sit on different floors and are only consulted when the sh*t really hits the fan. How on earth are you supposed to make changes to culture and improve engagement when you don’t know what’s going on? We sit in the office among everyone and find this so valuable. Sometimes it’s the small things you overhear that lead to bigger conversations.

Would love to hear your experiences with being mates with HR, drop a comment below.

Alex Delehunt is people and culture manager at Publicis Media

To see more pieces from the LinkedIn agency influencer program click the image below.


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