How to work with a manager who hates HR

A shocking amount of employees distrust HR – here's how you can change that

How to work with a manager who hates HR

If there’s one thing that brings employees together, it’s their unabated hatred for HR.

Or so the masses would have you believe.

The function is often treated a scapegoat for unpopular C-Suite decision making, enforcing trivial policies, pushing back on bonuses.

HR as the villain

And the movies don’t help. TV shows and films are full of unflattering portrayals of HR. From The Office’s Toby Flenderson to Monster’s Inc’s Roz – it seems like Hollywood moguls relish in casting HR as the villain.

As an HR professional, there’s nothing more difficult than having to work with a manager that inherently hates HR.  

There’s this misconception that HR is there to police your fun – to stop employees from actually enjoying being at work.

Nothing could be further from the truth - but that doesn’t stop some managers from harbouring a grudge.

A long-standing enmity  

“Traditionally, the HR function has been there to enforce organisational policy,” explained Jay Polaki, member of Forbes’ HR Council and CEO of HR Geckos.

“We’ve now evolved into a source of support for employees – one which has been particularly important during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because we began in that transactional role, people forgot that we were ‘human resources.’ Essentially, we lost that ‘H’ in ‘HR’ - and we stopped putting people first.

“That's where I believe our bad rap came from. Since then, we’ve worked hard to get away from this negative stereotype – we’ve evolved into a workforce partner, a coach persona, and someone that everyone in the organisation can rely on.”

But is this translating to employees?

A recent report from BambooHR found that 51% of staff from companies without an HR department rated the function as ‘completely incapable’. This number falls significantly in organisations with a staffed HR team – which BambooHR suggests could mean HR is simply lacking in visibility.

Evolution of the role

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, HR helped the C-Suite navigate its way out of a deadly crisis.

But this leadership came at a cost.

Read more: Is remote work creating a culture of presenteeism?

Research from Reward Gateway found that 2020 was the ‘most stressful year’ in many HR leaders’ careers, with 69% worried about the connectivity of their workforce and 71% concerned over fostering a culture remotely.

All these additional problems compounded with the uncertainty of 2021, is leading to a burnout crisis in HR departments. 

“As found in our various research around the impact of COVID-19, it’s clear that as HR leaders continue to be asked to do more with less to connect and engage the remote workforce during the pandemic and into FY21, communication, support and recognition initiatives remain at the core of a positive employee experience,” added Reward Gateway’s chief operating officer Rob Boland.

Read more: Is presenteeism worse than absenteeism?

Could this miasma of anxiety and stress be seeping out into the workforce – and impacting people’s already shaky impression of HR?

Reasons people hate HR

One of the main reasons employees dislike the HR function is that they don’t fully understand its purpose.

To many employees, HR is supposed to be a ‘people person’ role – like a glorified ‘gatekeeper’ to the whole office. And while HR practitioners should take a very active interest in the wellbeing of workers, that’s a small part of an intricate job spec.

HR is intrinsic to every aspect of the organisation. From hiring to terminations, budgeting to future planning, legal action to employee mentoring – there’s no department outside of HR’s purview.

As for Polaki, she revealed her own personal experience of having to work alongside a grumpy, HR-hating manager.

“I have been in the HR function for almost two decades,” she told HRD.

“I run my own gig now, but I also consult with other companies. In my past professional life, where I was both an employee within an HR department and an HR director, I've had many managers who pushed back on our policies or who simply did not want to play along.

“This was especially true in older, more traditional organisations – businesses where things have been done in a certain way for a very long time – and where HR was never given that front and centre seat at the table.”

Polaki recounted an incident involving legal documents that had to be filled out and submitted by a certain date – otherwise the company could face fines from auditors.

“Even though this was completely necessary for the company, some managers were just not interested in helping.”

“For some employees, HR, or collaborating with HR, was just not an option. Ultimately, our senior management had to intervene – which eventually had a knock-on effect.”

How to work with a manager that hates HR

Polaki’s advice for HR leaders looking to break through? Well, it’s all about speaking up.

“Training sessions are a great way to help employees understand the value of what HR is asking them to do,” she told HRD. “Especially in regards to compliance.”

“I spent a lot of time educating all the managers in the organisation, and any new managers that were hired.

“As I mentioned, it’s really important to get that senior-level support. If you explain to the C-Suite how crucial an HR initiative is – and how ignoring it could cost the company a lot of money – you’ll soon have the backing you need.”

As a pivotal member of the senior management team, HR has to learn to speak the language of the boardroom – i.e. numbers.

“Convince your high-level management how important this is, what the return on investment is, and how it's going to impact the bottom line of the organisation – CEOs and CFOs respond very well to financial rationale.”

Key Takeaways for HR

  • The HR function had a bad reputation as a ‘administrative’ function – in the past few years the role has evolved into a strategic partner 
  • 51% of staff from companies without an HR department rated the function as ‘completely incapable’
  • Managers from ‘traditional’ companies tend to push back more with HR, with senior leaders more likely to be resistant to change
  • To facilitate real collaboration, HR leaders should work hard to educate tricky managers
  • Securing C-Suite backing is key to getting HR-hating managers onboard – to do this, make sure you know your figures!


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