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Why employees hate HR and may continue to do so

Last updated on: April 27, 2011 08:16 IST

Why employees hate HR and may continue to do so

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Shonalee Biswas


So here is a true story.

A friend of mine recently joined one of India's biggest unlisted companies. One of the first requirements was to open a savings account with a bank in which his salary would be paid.

To open the account my friend was asked to submit a photocopy of his PAN card, a couple of photographs and a letter from the company stating that he is an employee.

The letter meant a visit to the HR department of the company. Once there, the HR lady there told him, "Sorry, the company doesn't have a policy of issuing such letters."

This left him aghast. What that woman had just told him was that even though he was working in the company, the HR department would not certify in any way that he was an employee.

A little more digging told him the reason behind this policy. It seems the HR head did not like the bank statements of employees who quit accumulating once they had quit. So he had passed this diktat.

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Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
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My friend got around by sending an email from his official email ID to the bank and that worked as a proof of him being an employee.

In fact, he later found out that even though HR did not issue letters, if pushed enough they would send out an email to the bank certifying that he or she is an employee.

It need not be said that this friend of mine till date hasn't been able to build any sense of ownership or feel that he has a place at this company. Of course, he is already on search for a new job.

As Keith H Hammonds wrote in his path-breaking article, Why We Hate HR on www.fastcompany.com: 'The human resources trade long ago proved itself, at best, a necessary evil -- and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change.'

And we are not done yet.

When you negotiate a job offer

If you still have any doubts about the Machiavellian ways of HR, here is another interesting story from the trenches.

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A few years back my former boss was being chased by a competitor and he finally got an offer he could not refuse.

If he accepted the package being offered, it would mean a substantial jump from his current salary levels. On the flip side, a major portion of the jump was in the form of a variable salary (or bonus as it is commonly called).

Of course, with his good skill sets and business relationships in place, he was confident that he would be able to achieve the targets required to get the variable salary.

And so he accepted the offer. 

Six months later, he was a disgruntled man. What the HR manager had not told him was that in order to be eligible for the variable salary he needed to have joined the organisation on or before September 30. He had taken on the job in the first week of October.

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He was mad at the fact that the HR department had not brought this to his notice while he was negotiating for the job.

Moral of the story: Caveat emptor, when you are talking to HR.

Appraisals and all that gyan

Also, the above example raises a bigger question of why do appraisals need to happen as on a certain date i.e. March 31, in most companies.

Why can't appraisals be spread throughout the year? If someone joins a company on October 1, why can't his appraisal happen a year later, instead of he or she being overlooked because of the date of joining? These are questions that HR needs to tackle and come up with solutions for.

The other bigger question here is why are annual appraisals designed in a way that they are routinely useless and ultimately depend on the relationship you share with your boss?

Here is what Marc Effron, president, The Talent Strategy Group, and author of One Page Talent Management, said in an interview sometime back: 'Let's take a tool like the 360 degree feedback instrument, which is basically where a manager gets feedback from everyone else who works around them, about how they should behave differently. Well, that's a very simple process in theory. But what we have done is taken this very simple process in human resources and we have made it incredibly elaborate, meaning that you will be asked to fill out a 200-question questionnaire that will take you hours, and you will be sick of it. When I get the report back I get fifty pages of charts, graphs and things that demand an IQ to understand.'

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The entire idea behind the way HR conducts appraisals seems to be 'if you can't convince them, at least confuse them.'

Or as Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, puts it; 'There is no idea so bad that it cannot be made to look brilliant with the proper application of fonts and colour.'

So when it comes to appraisals, HR clearly believes in 'jazzing up the mumbo jumbo'.

Or take this case of a journalist friend of mine whose appraisal boiled down to a rather complicated form which basically measured how many articles he wrote during the course of the year. 

There was absolutely no measure on the quality or the importance of what he wrote.  The HR guys had taken the form for marketing and sales guys and just changed the headings and sent it across without trying to even understand what my friend (or others in a position similar to his) actually do.

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Exit interviews

Another friend had a rather weird exit interview experience.  While going through the exit interview she was asked to be honest about the company she was leaving. And she is still regretting it.

Six months after quitting her ex-boss called her for a new profile. The offer was almost ready, till the HR head put his foot down pointing out a few not so good things that she had written and spoken about in the exit interview.

It was a funny situation given that the same guy had encouraged her to be honest while taking the exit interview.

The moral of this story as Scott Adams put it: 'Honesty is always the best policy for people who have already given their notice and will never need a job reference.'

Of course, this friend of mine never got the job.

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So why are things they way they are?

As companies gradually outsource most of what HR does, HR managers should be a worried lot. As Hammonds puts it: 'Most HR organisations have ghettoised themselves literally to the brink of obsolescence. They are competent at the administrivia of pay, benefits, and retirement, but companies increasingly are farming those functions out to contractors who can handle such routine tasks at lower expense.'

Of course, companies do not give as much importance to HR as they give to other functions like marketing, sales and finance. But at some level HR managers are themselves to be blamed for it. They show very little initiative in trying to keep abreast of new things.

As Hammonds puts it: 'When HR professionals were asked about the worth of various academic courses toward a 'successful career in HR,' 83% said that classes in interpersonal communications skills had 'extremely high value'. Employment law and business ethics followed, at 71% and 66%, respectively. Where was change management? At 35%. Strategic management? 32%. Finance? Um, that was just 2%. The truth? Most human resources managers aren't particularly interested in, or equipped for, doing business.'

And till they get around to understanding business, we as employees have no other option, but to dislike them.

The author can be reached at shonalee.biswas@gmail.com



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