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Why Do HR Employees Behave Badly?

May 13, 2009



Isn’t it sad that we are no longer surprised when receiving such treatment by those whose role it is to represent us to senior management? Those who should be looking out for our interests? The ones who should be speaking up on our behalf? 

The missing element is the professional experience we had expected to receive. 

Maybe we expect too much. What does the word “professional” mean to you? It conjures up something above the ordinary, right? Perhaps you think of someone a cut above, someone whom you expect more from - because of either credentials or supposed experience and responsibilities.   But what makes a professional? Is it something that anyone can claim?

To me the word stands for being a notch above, providing a higher standard of performance, a higher level of knowledge and experience, a higher level of ethics. This is the “go-to” guy when you’re in trouble and need help. The professional is someone to put your faith in. It is someone to help get you out of a jam.

So, how do you feel when someone you have elevated to that rank, or has claimed that designation, misrepresents themselves by not acting in a professional manner?

Makes you mad, doesn’t it? If you are in a customer situation, it may well convince you never to return. You might never do business with “them” again, as they have broken your trust.

In Human Resources the term “Professional” is a designation that is easy to claim, yet for some rather difficult to maintain. And once lost, that aura of “better than thou” is difficult to recoup. For example, being suddenly anointed as a “manager” conveys to the outside world that you must be a “professional” - yet the knowledge and experience that brought you this far won’t be enough to maintain that veneer, unless you start to *act* like a professional.

So why are many so-called HR professionals perceived as acting as anything but? Some examples:

  • Failure to respond to known colleagues who have reached out to you via phone or eMail
  • Ignoring resumes / job candidates that you have solicited
  • Treating employees with either rudeness (no time for you) or condescension (you’re doing them a favor)
  • Communicating with candidates only as it suits you, without consideration of how your actions affect others
  • Treating the core value of personal ethics as a moving target, subject to periodic (and varying) degrees of interpretation
  • Failure to treat employees with the respect due to fellow team members; forgetting that the organization is composed of “we”, not “you vs. me”

Likely you have your own examples.

Often have I heard it said that being a professional, aside from having letters after your name, means that you profess to stand for something.   If you don’t, or only do so when it’s convenient, then all the certifications and official paper “suitable for framing” won’t truly describe who and what you are.

So why do HR professionals treat us this way? Likely it’s a combination of internal and external pressures:

  • Reduced staff levels force us to do more with less
  • Lack of management training leaves us ill-prepared to deal with myriad number and diversity of employee problems
  • There are bad apples in every bushel:
    • Those who put ambition ahead of ethics and fair treatment
    • Those who curry favor with their boss, at any cost
  • Those who use HR only as a career stepping stone can be suspect, though not always part of the problem

The impact of this “treatment” problem can be serious and far-reaching; lower employee morale, disengaged workers (occupying the chair, but there’s no one home), higher turnover of key talent and high performers, company reputation suffering via word of mouth, etc. Each of these symptoms, left uncorrected can result in negative financial implications for the company.

What can be done? I have no call to action, no rallying cry for HR professionals to wake up tomorrow renewed and reinvigorated. There is no “diet pill” guaranteed to change behavior with a glass of water.

But I do ask each of us to look in the mirror tomorrow morning and ask if we can identify those core values that we do stand for, and whether we have been walking our own degree of talk.

If you don’t like what you see, you can change it. You can start by dealing with others as you would like others to deal with you. It’s as simple as that. The employees in your organization deserve better. They deserve a professionalism that comes from the heart as well as the head.


With over 30 years experience Chuck Csizmar is an independent Global Compensation Consultant with deep and broad experience in the design, implementation and communication of domestic and international compensation and reward programs. He is the Founder of CMC Compensation Group, providing companies in multiple industries with the compensation expertise necessary to ensure business success in a challenging but resource-limited environment. For a personal touch in an impersonal world you are invited to contact