Handling friendships and your duties as a HR Practitioner

Sometimes HR can have a reputation for being aloof and not overly friendly, because of the kind of work we do, and the kind of information we handle making friends in our workplace can be complicated. It’s further complicated by the role which you do in HR. Earlier in my career I was a Remuneration & HR Analyst, I had full access to every employees remuneration including my fellow team members and the executives. I was in in that role for a couple of years and maintained a very low profile, I didn’t tell people what I did outside of conversations with managers – in many ways even my direct team didn’t fully understand the role I played (when people asked what I did I simply said I worked in HR, often that kills the conversation right there). So why this approach? I played a significant role in both the annual incentive calculations, and the annual salary increases – I needed to be both impartial and perceived as such. I recall one time working with a manager on a potential pay rise, and I had actually gone to school with the individual concerned about a decade ago – hadn’t spoken to him since that time, but even so I mentioned this to the manager. After the pay increase was awarded I never congratulated the individual, nor ever mention it, I expect he to this day has no idea I was involved in making it happen – and this is exactly the way it should be.

In another role I was able to be more open about what I did, in this role I was responsible for managing a scholarships program which contributed to building a local workforce for potential employment. Certainly there were still aspects which even members of my team were not aware of, but on the whole I could be much more open. Although by nature I play things pretty close to the chest, so unless its well out in the public space as public knowledge I don’t typically talk about it – to paraphrase, small talk sinks ships.

While in a management role which encompassed HR rather than a specific HR role I had to fire a good friend, it was my job so I did it – the friendship was made before I won the position. He didn’t really speak to me after that, but the fact is that I was employed to do a job so that’s all there was to it.

The truth is that unpleasant duties are often assigned to HR, supporting managers in performance management conversations with poor performing employees, directing change management initiatives which include downsizing and redundancies etc. How are you placing yourself to do these duties when you’re everyone’s best friend?

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