HR dilemma: do as you’re told, or take a stand?

by Janie Smith28 Apr 2014
Have you ever been asked to restructure an employee out of a job, because the manager recruited the wrong person and can’t manage them?
Or been told not to go after a senior manager who bullied staff, because they were a high performer?
Jane*, a training manager and former HR manager, told HC Online that she faced these situations and more during her HR career.
“I think every HR person has their limits and I’ve worked with a couple of HR people who have actually resigned over being asked to do things that they fundamentally disagreed with. I usually try and find a way to compromise but if the CEO and board back the decision you might have no one else to turn to.”
In the case of the bullying manager, she disagreed with the directive but was forced to compromise because it had the board’s backing.
“In the end I suggested we move him into a role that didn’t have any staff reporting to it to minimise the impact. The CEO agreed to that but gave him a pay rise.”
One of the strangest directives came from her CEO when she and her husband were working for the same company.
“I was told by the CEO to tell my husband that the CEO had an issue with him.”
Jane refused to do so.
“If the CEO had a problem he could raise it himself. He did let it drop after that - later telling me he’d just been testing my loyalties.”
Alexandra Tselios, business consultant and publisher of the website The Big Smoke, said the first thing to do in a situation where you feel uncomfortable with a directive is to figure out why you don’t like it.  

“If you’ve been asked to do something for the good of the company, but you feel uncomfortable being put into a challenging situation, then you most likely need to suck it up for the benefit of the business. However, the lines can be blurred when you feel the task goes against your moral code, or worse could be illegal.

“If you are concerned about the ethics or legality of the task, talk to your supervisor and discuss the issue. If this doesn’t get the resolution you’re after, it’s time to start investigating. Research online or contact your industry body for guidance. Alternatively, if you have a mentor or companion in a senior position, ask for their advice. The key is to know the difference between pushing yourself and your personal beliefs, and breaking a law or doing something unethical.”
*Not her real name
Have you ever been told to do something you didn’t agree with? How did you react?


  • by Catherine 28/04/2014 1:23:47 PM

    Some organisations test your ethics more than others. If you feel your values are constantly being challenged, it is unlikely that the company is ever going to be a good fit for you. There are of course, HR people who are happy to do anything to get the money. Only you can decide what is right for you. But this is something we need to discuss a lot more openly - so than k you for this article.

  • by craig 29/04/2014 12:08:36 AM

    Try having to explain to an 80yr old CEO whos is old school and just grew the company to a size where he is under a lot more compliance that if you decide to fire the pregnant girl there will be consequences. Some CEOs think they are above the law or would like to think so

  • by Sarah 30/04/2014 2:53:47 PM

    Many years ago whilst working in a sole HR role I was put in several situations where I felt I was going against my own morals and values. It didn't take me too long to realise that the company (and it's MD) were completely the wrong fit for me - and probably shouldn't bother having an HR function at all. I chose to resign with no other job to go to at the time but it's the best career move I've ever made. As we all know sometimes the story you're sold as a candidate in an interview process isn't reality. I was too naive to spot the warning signs back then.

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