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HR: If you don’t feel caught in the middle, you’re not doing it right

January 17, 2016

(Originally published on LinkedIn’s Pulse)

that's harsh memeEach day, HR practitioners are faced with a broad range of decisions that involve ethical dilemmas. My goal is not to itemize or categorize such decisions but rather to challenge the way we see ourselves as practitioners. I submit to you that if you are an HR practitioner of any sort (e.g., employee/labor relations, organizational development/change, benefits administrator), and you don’t sometimes feel caught between employees and management, you are doing it wrong. Here’s why:

  1. Your primary commitment must be to professional ethics.
  2. Absolute transparency is not optional.
  3. You represent both the employees and management.
  4. As an SME, it’s your job to correct misinformation and provide clear guidance, backed by sound rationale and research.
  5. Professionally disagreeing with either employees or management is difficult, but necessary.
  6. If you wouldn’t be willing to testify in a court of law as to the action being taken [on your watch BTW] then it’s not a matter of stating your non-support, it’s a matter of stepping up and intervening.
  7. If you ever hear yourself saying “my hands are tied” and not owning whatever decision is at hand, you should find another job immediately.
  8. After all is said and done, you still have to live with yourself.

There is a reason the profession of HR establishes the requirement for a solid ethical foundation and that’s due to the diverse issues HR practitioners encounter on a very regular basis. A strong sense of inherent right and wrong is not negotiable, and if one is worried about being liked vs. doing the right thing, it will be bad for everyone.

Employees and management make subconscious, unambiguous judgments as to whether or not HR practitioners can be trusted. Certainly it’d be great if we were all in a position to be liked, but we’re not. That’s the reality of HR, and it’s better that truth is unequivocally accepted as early on in one’s career as possible. Being liked is a bonus and, yes, we should strive for that. However, being respected is a testament to an unwavering commitment to ethical practice. One might not agree with decisions made, however, on a professional level there should be no doubt concerning the matter of ethical or legal. Of course, it’s not that easy, but who said it would be?

If one finds their personal ethical and moral compasses eroded or consistentlycontradicted within the context of their job, it’s time to find an organization that supports professional respect and facilitates a culture of open and honest dialogue. No job is worth the price of self-respect.

To be clear: None of the above constitutes an endorsement of unapproachability, consistently discordant behavior, or closed-mindedness.

One day each of us will find ourselves on the other side of the equation, and it’s quite likely we would want to be treated with fairness and honesty, even if the outcome isn’t what we desire. It’s easier to deal with those outcomes if we trust that the HR professional we are dealing with behaves ethically and legally on a reliable basis.

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