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Jack McCallum

What Employees Often Get Wrong About Human Resources

Check out these three commonly held misconceptions of HR departments. You may find yourself adopting a healthy appreciation for your HR department.

When you apply for a job opening and interview for it, it’s likely you will communicate extensively with the Human Resources (HR) Department, especially at larger businesses.

Once you’re hired, you might encounter negative perceptions about HR, mainly because employees don’t often hear from HR until there is a problem. Satirical portrayals about HR professionals in places such as the comic strip Dilbert haven’t helped matters either. 

It’s important to remember the HR department serves a useful and strategic purpose for organizations. Like all departments within an organization, the HR department’s role is to develop initiatives and strategies that help the organization reach its overall goals.  However, HR’s goals are fulfilled internally, through the people the organization hires.

Here are three commonly held misconceptions of HR departments:

HR serves as a pseudo-employee representative

The Human Resources Department’s role is not to represent employees in grievances or conflicts employees have with the organization or their manager. Rather, HR’s role is to create programs and initiatives for employers to hire highly qualified professionals and retain them. This means looking at compensation and benefit packages, creating value-added training and development programs, and ensuring recruiting and employee engagement is effective and complies with legal requirements. 

When employees have issues with their pay (for example, they believe they deserve a pay increase) or are looking for more opportunities to grow in the company they should talk with their department manager/direct supervisor, not HR. It will be up to the department manager/direct supervisor to work with HR to identify potential opportunities for the employee. Also, if employees have a problem with how the organization is handling a situation or a specific process, it is up to the employees to go to their department manager/direct supervisor to address that conflict.

HR only cares about the organization’s interests

The HR department strikes a balance between the employer’s mission, vision, and strategic goals and the employee’s needs. For example, if employees are looking for a better work/life balance, HR will work with employers to develop initiatives that support that balance. Why? Because it all leads back to retention of the organization’s biggest asset:  employees.  HR professionals focus on a balance between the organization and employee interests, which benefits everyone. 

You should bypass your manager for HR

Traditionally, the HR department has no power to usurp a manager’s authority in her/his department and, if an employee reports a problem, will most likely refer an employee back to their direct supervisor.  HR’s role is to provide support and advising to management, while being a resource for non-management employees.  If an employee has an issue with a manager, HR will most likely refer the employee to their manager’s manager but they will not (and should not) take on the employee’s issue unless it warrants further investigation. For example, if an employee came to HR and stated they believe he/she was being sexually harassed, HR has a responsibility to investigate.

The role of HR departments isn’t always made clear to employees. Because of this, employees (and management) often misunderstand or have misconceptions about what HR’s purpose is within an organization. The role of the HR department isn’t to be a pseudo-representative for employees, be solely focused on the employer’s best interests, or to serve as a substitute for a department manager. Instead, HR’s role is to create effective programs and initiatives to recruit and retain high qualified employees, balance the interests of the organization with the needs of employees, and serve as support and advising to management while being a resource to employees.

Jack McCallum has been with the online business department at Herzing University since 2011. When not teaching, she serves as the President/Principal Consultant for HR Balance LLC—a consulting company specializing in human resources management, organizational development, leadership coaching, and training/development. She started HR Balance LLC in 2003 after years of serving in a leadership capacity for a variety of for-profit and non-profit organizations. A keynote speaker and presenter, Jack has served as an industry expert for radio and print media.


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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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