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Whose Side Is HR Really On—Mine, or the Company’s?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

The HR department at my company is in the bag for the executives — essentially in the business of covering for their myriad transgressions. (And there are a lot of them.) None of us feel as though they ever have our best interests in mind, so we don’t really view them as a resource for anything other than the absolute basics. Is that how it is pretty much everywhere? —Cory S., Cleveland
Uh, no, is the simple answer. HR departments hold a special position of trust that’s memorialized in policies and procedures that encourage or require employees to share confidences, concerns and alleged transgressions. You appear frustrated and disillusioned by inaction — or worse — so let me share some HR secrets with you.

Many times, the HR department takes action but no one knows about it. Several years ago, I was one of only four people in a major company who knew the board of directors had placed our COO on a performance plan with significant consequences to his role as heir apparent CEO. This was documented, communicated and monitored without employees or the general public being aware of it. (Nothing illegal or immoral prompted the action, just grave misgivings on the part of the board.)

In this case, HR did its job, but no one knew. Such is the case many times when senior executives are involved. Stuff happens behind the scenes. In other cases, especially when it’s a situation of “he said/she said” complaints, HR actively investigates, makes determinations and takes actions, many of which will never be publicly disclosed to protect the parties involved.

I guess what I’m saying is that it may not be fair to paint your entire HR department with such a broad brush. It’s probably worse for you and your teammates to complain among yourselves, stew in your own juices and generally retrench within your organization.

If bad shit is happening and you really don’t believe there’s anyone trustworthy in HR, there are anonymous ways to voice concerns about alleged misdeeds. Does your company have a whistleblower hotline you can use? Would you be willing to put nasty stuff on Glassdoor?

If the answer is yes and you’ve reached your boiling point, then go for it.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.