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Breaking HR Myths: A Closer Look with HR Manager’s Insight

Ana Ć. R. 9 min readApr 12, 2024Culture
Breaking HR Myths: A Closer Look with HR Manager’s Insight

You can find a bunch of HR myths on the internet, from "HR professionals are a bunch of dinosaurs who don't understand technology" to “Working in HR is boring, and there are no options to be creative” or the belief that we are all "people persons."

Perhaps you laugh about them when you read them, or maybe if you work in the HR industry, they sting a little. And who knows, maybe you're even someone who believes in them!

At our internal event, "Talk the Talk," I had the opportunity to discuss debunking HR myths. Here at Devōt, we in HR wanted to gain a deeper understanding of how our colleagues perceive the HR profession and our work. So, last summer, we sent out a simple quiz to Devōt employees asking for honest thoughts on HR.

The responses we received were intriguing and shed light on the many misconceptions surrounding HR and its functions. This blog is all about sorting out those myths from the truth, sharing what HR is really about, and the kind of HR team we're working to be here in Devōt.

Let's dive into ten myths and truths to see which ones hold up!

The first thing that comes to mind when someone says HR

When someone mentions HR, the first thing that often comes to mind is personnel tasks and recruitment. Often, the closest association people have is that HR equals personnel tasks. So, in companies where HR processes are not properly developed, they remain in the background.

In HR, you could say that it's clear for most people what needs to be done, but the problem is there are no standards on how to do it. Take offboarding, for example—a clear task list needs to be created, but different HR departments communicate differently when someone leaves. Is it timely? Clear? Is it consistent with what was communicated to the employee if the employer initiated the termination?

How HR will look depends on the first person in the company. What beliefs do they have about people? How do they think people should be treated? Is it necessary to invest in people, or are people easily replaceable?

Common HR stereotypes: What's a myth and what's the truth?

1. “When HR gets involved, that means you're getting fired”

One of the most common myths is that HR is the big bad wolf, and its involvement means it's your last day at the company.

Consider a scenario where an employee engages in inappropriate behavior, such as getting into an altercation with a client or arriving intoxicated at work. In such cases, the responsibility of addressing this behavior initially falls upon the employee's immediate supervisor. It is the role of the supervisor to provide feedback, correct undesirable conduct, and commend positive actions.

HR's involvement comes into play as a supportive function, offering guidance and facilitating discussions between the supervisor and the employee if necessary. However, it's essential to recognize that HR does not solely dictate the outcome of such situations, nor is it solely responsible for delivering feedback.

While it's a common misconception that HR's main role is to fire employees, their purpose is to collaborate with supervisors, providing advice and assistance as needed to address employee behavior effectively. When necessary, HR professionals will facilitate a fair firing process that respects the rights of all parties involved.

Therefore, while HR's involvement may signify a serious issue, it does not inherently indicate termination but rather a collaborative effort to address and rectify workplace issues.

2. “HR is the go-to for everything"

Although the HR people play a critical role in fostering organizational culture, this effort extends beyond their sole responsibility.

The CEO and top management lay the foundation of a company's culture by defining core values and desired behaviors, while supervisors and employees contribute through feedback, actions, and daily practices. A key component of this collaboration is employee engagement, where HR devises strategies and initiatives to ensure employees are fully invested in their roles and aligned with the company's goals.

HR's role is multifaceted—ensuring values and behaviors align with the company's goals, facilitating communication, and organizing events to develop company culture. They also advocate for employee rights and act as mediators in conflicts, balancing the interests of both employees and management. This means that HR is important but not the sole architect of a company's culture.

Often, HR is seen as a jack of all trades; they sometimes handle tasks that are not traditionally within their scope. For example, when I was just starting out as an HR professional, I was assigned the task of defining and aligning daily allowances for business travel with the law. Would you say that is one of the HR functions?

3. "The HR department is a spy for the management"

When we think of a "spy," several defining characteristics come to mind. Firstly, a spy is someone sent by an entity, usually secretly, to gather information or intelligence. This could range from sensitive data to insights into activities or behaviors. Secondly, the role of a spy typically involves operating discreetly, ensuring that their actions go unnoticed by the target or opposing party. This clandestine nature is essential to maintain the element of surprise and to gather accurate information without arousing suspicion.

Finally, a crucial aspect of espionage is reporting back to the entity that sent them. Whether through coded messages, encrypted communications, or direct debriefings, spies are responsible for relaying their findings to their handlers or superiors. So, do you still think HR departments secretly operate in the shadows as corporate spies?

I would also add that HR is often put in a position by management to talk to an employee and verify some information. When I am placed in such a situation, I insist on clearly communicating to all parties what they can expect from me, the purpose of my conversation with them, and what I will do with the outcomes of the discussion.

4. "The role of HR is to remind team leads of deadlines related to their team members"

While reminding team leads of deadlines isn't HR's main role, it can be necessary to keep things on track.

In any organization, the primary responsibility for managing deadlines and obligations typically falls on the respective team leads or supervisors. However, there are circumstances where HR intervention becomes necessary, especially in ensuring compliance with company policies or legal requirements.

While it's not anyone's designated role to remind others of their duties, there are moments when such reminders are life-saving and essential for maintaining efficiency and accountability within the team.

5. "The HR department makes decisions regarding promotions, raises, and termination of collaboration"

The HR department's role in decisions regarding promotions raises, and termination of collaboration is more about providing a framework rather than making direct determinations.

Ultimately, team leads or supervisors have intimate knowledge of their team members' performance and potential, allowing them to make informed decisions regarding their advancement.

HR's responsibility lies in establishing and maintaining a structured process for performance evaluations, outlining how assessments are conducted, and collaborating with management to define job descriptions and salary bands. By offering this framework, HR ensures consistency and fairness in decision-making while empowering team leads to make informed choices aligned with organizational goals and values.

6. "The HR department closely collaborates and implements management decisions"

This statement holds true as management decisions have a direct impact on HR policies and practices. Management is one of the key stakeholders with whom HR closely collaborates to ensure alignment between organizational objectives and HR strategies.

Management decisions shape the framework within which HR operates, influencing areas such as recruitment, training, compensation, and employee relations. Therefore, effective collaboration between HR and management is essential for the successful implementation of HR initiatives and the achievement of organizational goals.

7. "HR listens to employees' needs and communicates them to the management"

Absolutely! HR often serves as a bridge between employees and management, advocating for their needs and concerns.

A prime example from our own experience is when, with the support of our COO, we successfully got the approval for an increase in the baseline number of annual vacation days.

In this instance, HR proactively identified an issue concerning employee satisfaction with the number of vacation days and effectively communicated this feedback to management. By acting as a liaison, HR facilitated a positive outcome that benefited both employees and the organization as a whole.

8. "The HR department supports the leadership team in managing human resources"

Absolutely. A strong HR department indeed supports the leadership team in effectively managing human resources.

It's often said that in companies with excellent HR practices, many people don't know that HR even exists. They easily resolve issues with their immediate supervisors, and the HR department's involvement may not be readily apparent.

The ultimate goal of HR is to cultivate a strong and empowered management team that is competent, well-educated, informed, and equipped with systems and procedures to lead and manage people effectively.

HR's work involves a continuous effort to develop and implement strategies that enhance organizational effectiveness, support employee development, and ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations.

9. "The HR department conducts individual 1-on-1 discussions with each employee regarding their satisfaction"

The belief that HR conducts individual 1-on-1 discussions with each employee regarding their satisfaction is a misconception.

In reality, supervisors or managers should conduct these personal discussions with their team members. HR would be significantly inefficient if tasked with having individual conversations with every employee.

Ultimately, the supervisor has the most direct influence on the satisfaction of their team members. They are responsible for understanding their team's needs, addressing concerns, providing feedback, and creating a positive work environment.

While HR plays a supportive role in communication and providing guidance to supervisors, the primary responsibility for conducting 1-on-1 discussions about employee satisfaction lies with the immediate managers.

However, there are specific situations when HR conducts one-on-one discussions with employees. This happens mostly when organizational changes directly affect a specific team, and clarity and HR support for managers are crucial.

Overall, HR's focus is on developing and implementing an HR strategy that enhances overall employee satisfaction and engagement.

10. “HR doesn't know anything about the business outside their department”

Businesses often do not expect HR professionals to show a deep understanding of the nature of their work and their challenges. However, a competent HR professional will always make an effort to learn about the business, its products, and services. This is crucial for understanding the challenges within business processes and organizational structures, as it directly impacts areas within HR's domain, such as organizational culture, job roles, job descriptions, and career pathways.

At Devōt, our HR team employs agile methodologies similar to those used by our technical teams. This helps us understand how these teams are organized and how they plan and deliver their work.

My personal experience has taught me that continuous proactive engagement with the core teams is essential. Regular check-ins to understand what is happening and what challenges they face are key to grasping the overall business operations. This proactive approach helps HR not only anticipate needs and challenges but also allows the HR manager to align HR strategies more closely with business objectives.

A few bonus words on HR stereotypes

11. "If there is a conflict in a team, HR will try to solve it"

I know, I know, we said ten, but I couldn’t resist adding this one. The statement "If there is a conflict in a team, HR will try to solve it" holds true in many cases, but it's essential to consider the context in which the conflict arises.

When a conflict occurs between two team members, it is often appropriate for HR to intervene and attempt to resolve the issue. However, the dynamics change when the conflict involves a team leader and a team member. In such situations, there is a power imbalance that complicates resolution efforts.

In these instances, a careful approach is necessary. HR may engage in individual discussions with both the leader and the team member involved, offering guidance and mediation to facilitate resolution. The goal is not only to address the immediate conflict but also to empower the team leader with the skills and strategies needed to handle similar situations effectively in the future.

Therefore, while HR's role in conflict resolution remains significant, the approach may vary depending on the specific circumstances and power dynamics within the team.

Breaking hr stereotypes at internal presentation

How do we work on these stereotypes?

In the summer of 2023, 81% of Devōt employees filled out our questionnaire. We also asked them about their previous experience with HR on the spot at the internal event. The responses showed that people had mixed feelings about HR, and many had negative experiences with HR in their previous jobs.

Although HR is not new, it is often viewed as solely responsible for personnel management and hiring and often remains in the background. Why is this? Well, maybe this perception stems from our lack of marketing skills, making us seem like Toby Flenderson from "The Office," or maybe it’s because many people expect us to solve every conflict they have in the company magically.

How do we work on this? This presentation (and now blog) serves as an example for an open discussion to see how employees respond, what their views on HR are, and what their past experiences have been.

Aside from that, we need to collaborate closely with managers; if they believe in some of these myths, it’s our responsibility to work with them to align and define the type of HR we want and what represents good practice. Therefore, regular 1-on-1 meetings with managers are essential.

With all this in mind, my advice is to work on presenting HR initiatives to employees, like we did at our internal company meeting, to showcase the results of employee satisfaction surveys and the action plan. If you have any questions about HR at Devōt or how agile works in human resources, feel free to reach out with your questions.

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