What’s the easiest way to get fired? You could tell your managers what you really think of their policies and personalities, or if you really want to speed up the process, you could simply tell human resources.
As the only department with a “human” in its name, the HR department positions itself as an oasis of safety in the business battlefield. Marketing is the home of marauding Mongols. The executive wing is populated with rabid Genghis Khans. But HR is full of helpful Heidi’s. HR is the Switzerland of office geography, and they’re only here to make your work life better.
Or are they?
If you still cling to the notion that HR people are on your side, it’s certainly understandable. When you first came into the company as a bright-eyed, optimistic applicant, it was through the HR birth canal. And when you leave the company, a bitter, broken husk of your former self, it will be through the HR disposal unit. The lifeblood of our careers is spilled in the hallways of the HR department, but that doesn’t mean we also have to spill our guts.
Amy Levin-Epstein, a writer on CBS MoneyWatch, agrees. In her recent article, “4 Things Never to Share with HR,” Levin-Epstein blows the whistle on why HR blows. “HR is there to help you deal with your manager,” she says, “but they’re also there to help your manager deal with you, so don’t count on privacy.”
No. 1 of the four things not to share is anything “you wouldn’t share with your direct manager.” In other words, if you expect HR to keep your opinions of your manager confidential, you’ve got another thought coming and another job coming, as well.
“HR works in that difficult space between employees and management,” Bruce Clark, CEO of a human resource management firm, tells Levin-Epstein, “and must act on serious issues they learn about, whether you want them to act or not.”
If you want to know on which side of that “difficult space” HR invariably leans, ask yourself the following question. Who pays the HR person’s salary? If it isn’t you, you shouldn’t be too surprised if the confidential concern about your supervisor’s sanity that you whisper into the shell-like ear of an HR person quickly makes its way into the in-basket of the same, insane supervisor.
“Go to HR for help in solving problems,” CEO Clark suggests “but not as a substitute for a best friend or a neighbor.” Or a pet beagle, or a talking bagel, or a complete stranger on the bus, none of whom will have any idea of how to solve your problem, but they won’t go running to your manager, either.
“Your medical or financial issues” are no-no No. 2. “HR wants stable performers,” Levin-Epstein observes, “and may be concerned if aspects of your home life seem unstable.”
Considering that your home life would make an episode of “Jersey Shore” look tame, sharing the antics of your family, friends and co-dependents could result in your immediate dismissal from any position of responsibility. On the other hand, it could also highlight your ability to survive in a hostile environment, and win for you a coveted transfer to the Kabul branch.
No. 3 on the do-not-share list is your online profile “if it’s not professional.” According to the article, “your HR rep may check out your online profile just to make sure you’re not bashing the company online or acting in a way that reflects them poorly.” Since you do most of your company bashing off-line, at your desk, surrounded by your co-workers, the HR snoops should give you a passing grade for digital loyalty. And who knows — those Facebook photos of you doing bong-hits in the main conference room, in your underwear, could charm the corporate snoops. But I wouldn’t count on it.
The fourth and final item on the list concerns telling HR just how much you enjoyed your maternity or paternity leave. The reason for this is not because they may somehow learn that you took the leave, but didn’t bother to actually get pregnant in the first place. They’re so picky in HR! The real reason is that you must never, ever even hint at the idea that there are places in the universe other than work where you’d rather be. Even Disneyland is a drag compared to being chained to your desk working for a psycho.
Of course, it could be worse. Much worse. You could be working in HR.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.