Earlier this week, while cooling down after a humid run, I came across an article entitled, “Sorry, HR, You Don’t Get Any Work Friends.” I almost threw up my post-run chocolate milk after reading one of the most depressing HR articles I’ve seen. The role of HR can be lonely and isolating enough as it stands, and to read that we should intentionally distance ourselves from any friendships with employees is some advice I’ll choose to ignore.
The author of the article throws out a couple of test questions to help HR pros decide if they should develop friendships or hole up in their little corners and continue to perpetuate the perceptions that all HR people are soulless evil people ruling the “Office of No.”
But if you’re an HR person, you absolutely, positively, should not have people in your client groups over for dinner. If you answer yes to any of the following questions about someone at work, you should never build a friendship with them.
- Will I ever have to weigh in on a promotion or raise for this person or any person in their department?
- Will I ever have to participate in disciplinary decisions for this person or any person in their department?
- Will I ever have to help determine who in this person’s group to lay off?
- If something bad happens, would I be involved in conducting the investigation of this person’s department?
- Do I help influence hire/fire decisions in this person’s department?
If you answer yes to any of these, you are setting yourself up for a conflict of interest.
One could argue that this would be the case for any role in the organization. Leader of people? Peers? Employees in a holacracy? Many roles outside of HR may have to encounter these situations. Are we supposed to discourage any friendships in the workplace for fear of having to make a difficult decision or have a tough conversation with a co-worker?
HR professionals are supposed to be the experts and stewards of building strong relationships and collaboration. We want colleagues to build trust, show up as their best selves, and be vulnerable. But HR pros aren’t supposed to do that with those outside of HR? That’s like a priest giving marital advice. Forgive me, Father.
If you’re worried about perceptions and favoritism on certain decisions being made, just do what every normal HR professional does and document your process. Regardless of who gets promoted, some employees will always question promotions. HR should not avoid any friendships outside of HR just because they may have to make decisions about their friends. That’s like avoiding a romantic relationship because it could end in a break-up. I have a little more faith in humanity that things will work out more on the positive than assuming the negative in my co-workers. I’ll take my chances.
Most HR departments are lonely. Working for yourself can be lonely, but imagine walking into an office of 500 colleagues and intentionally not developing friendships because of your role. That’s lonely.
If you’re going to tell me that I cannot be friends or build relationships with the groups that I support then I’m out. Take my job, you beautiful shiny robots.