The Workplace Issues That Keep HR Professionals Up at Night

Article main image
Nov 7, 2014

As HR Practitioners, we have some significant and impactful responsibilities.

From selecting the best candidates for our teams to fostering company culture, and a million things in between. HR can be highly rewarding, but the fact remains that many of our challenging responsibilities put us in situations that are intimidating, frustrating, emotional and dreaded not only to us, but to our employees as well.

So what are some of those challenges that keep HR up at night? And what can pros do to do conquer them?

1. Workplace violence and outbursts

Senseless tragedies cannot be planned for. Just this fall, the depressing story of a fired UPS worker killing himself and two supervisors hit the news. Extreme workplace violence is thankfully rare, but most of us have likely experienced a hysterical or disgruntled employee. And we dread it.

It’s important to be prepared, and discuss plans of action. Take a look at your policies and make sure they take HR’s (and the rest of the company’s) safety into account because eventually you’re likely to have an issue.

Something simple we often forget is to make sure there are two people in meetings where an employee is let go. Safety is always paramount, and should be considered for us in HR, and the employee as well!

Handling the myriad of emotions

We all need training in how to handle various employees and the myriad of emotions that arise. One quick example: An HR friend had an angry man come into the office demanding to talk to the person who fired his wife. Rather than allow him to dominate the conversation and verbally abuse her, she quickly asked a co-worker to join her in a private meeting with the man.

She listened to his concerns and let him know that she understood but couldn’t discuss the termination with anyone but the employee because of privacy policies. He felt heard. She stood her ground. And the confrontation ended as well as possible.

Intimidation and other improper behavior is unacceptable. We need to stand our ground when it comes to treating the employee and the situation the right way. Be safe, be wise, and we can turn these very challenging experiences into positive outcomes.

2. Making mistakes

HR’s mistakes can be far-reaching. Payroll feeds families, and there’s not much worse than a payroll mistake. In compliance and legal issues, the wrong question or response in a simple interview can turn into a lawsuit. One small filing mistake can be the difference between compliance and non-compliance. Security of employee data! Ummm, I’ll get back to you on that.

It seems like we’re spinning a hundred plates, and eventually, some are going to fall! So what can we do to minimize mistakes?

Project managers frequently ask two key questions that we in HR can really learn from.

  • First, what is the most important thing?
  • Second, what is the next step?

Prioritizing and taking each responsibility one step at a time will help us to “keep calm and carry on.” This will lead to a focus on people and processes in a way that will increase accuracy and efficiency in our roles. A key focus should be on the right foundation of software and other tools that help not just us but our employees. This frees us up incredibly to work on more meaningful HR challenges.

We can’t improve if we don’t see the problems. And we don’t see the problems because “we don’t have the time.” Let’s make the time and do it right. In the long run (and even the short run) it will just be better.

Mistakes happen, inevitably. But we can sure do smart things that result in fewer of them.

3. The often burdensome knowledge of personal issues

It’s the nature of our job to know a bit of personal information about pretty much every employee in the company. Sometimes we know more than we want to. And frankly, that knowledge can get us in trouble.

How can we be sure to safeguard that knowledge?

Well, we don’t write it on a post it and leave it on our desk, or print a sensitive letter and leave it on the printer. We need to securely store and share this information only as needed and as legally required. Dealing with issues that negatively and deeply impact a person’s life is just heavy.

Other than legal compliance requirements (recording, storing, etc.) for our own well-being, sometimes all we can do is simply compartmentalize the information in our head. One practitioner said that she separates information into her “HR-self” and real self. Also, private employee knowledge gained by position should simply be off-limits to any casual conversation.

We may dread some of the things we know, yet are definitely responsible to deal with them the right way.

4. Being perceived as a hard, cruel HR pro

Employees may joke about getting called in to meet with HR, like being called into the principal’s office. Most of the time they really aren’t in trouble, but sometimes they may deserve a good, swift, kick in the fanny — figuratively, of course.

Yes, meetings with HR can invite some anxiety or fear. Unfortunately, this fear is caused by us, rather than the actual situation we’re dealing with. How do we keep human resources from becoming the villain?

Employees need to know who we are in HR. Trust and communication are key characteristics in any meaningful relationship. How do we nurture them? We do our best to build relationships.

For one, we don’t allow detailed knowledge to ever be the awkward elephant in the room. Maybe we had a difficult performance review with an employee. Culturally, it’s necessary to go out of our way to make sure there are positive results.

This takes a bit of practice, as we all know. Separating the issue from the person can be helpful in letting them see the impact they can have, what they can become, and how they can grow. Clear communication and trust will go a long way in removing the hard, cruel — and of course completely unjust — stereotype!

Removing stereotypes about HR

HR is a tough job. Planning for the unexpected and maintaining a safe environment can ease worries and produce positive outcomes. Mistakes can be minimized with thoughtful prioritization and planning. Sensitive information can and should be used safely and wisely!

And we can definitely remove the HR stereotypes by building trust and enhancing communication. These challenges can be dreaded, or they can be welcomed as opportunities to grow us personally, our employees and our companies.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!