Won’t you be my… friend?

Frequently over the last two weeks the topic of ‘HR and friends in the workplace’ has popped up in conversation. I have mixed feelings on this topic, but after the 2nd time it came up I decided to shut up and listen to what others had to say. Most professionals are feeding me a line that you can separate your work relationship from your friendship and while I hope this is true, I’m not naïve enough to think that it’s always that easy. I found some people who work in HR and have friends at their work place (or have had friends at their work place while they were in an HR role). Here are some of the things I heard:

Everything was always pretty much fine until she was nearing the end of her employment with us and she suddenly had a sexual harassment complaint. As her friend I felt like she probably was not harassed and because of that I was able to recognize and explain to her that if she wanted to file her complaint officially she needed to talk to someone else in the HR department.

This scenario is tricky because for a personality type like mine I’d be 100% one way or the other… I’d either be team “you’re-overreacting” or I’d be team “lets-beat-him-down-knock-out-all-of-his-teeth-and-tie-him-to-a-tree” (we are woman hear us roar). The HR side of me would take this very serious and start the formal process immediately. How about your friend? Does your friend even realize what position they have just put you in, especially if they are just venting and over stating a situation only to come back later and respond with “oh they weren’t harassing me”. It can happen folks, it. can. happen.

In another conversation I approached an HR pro that has two or three very close friends that work outside of the HR department for her company. It went a little something like this:

Me: How do you feel about HR having friends at work?

Her: I used to have friends in the HR department, but they did me kind of shady so I prefer to have closer friends outside of the department.

Me: Do they ever fish for information they know you have?

Her: Sometimes. One respects that I have that boundary, at least one of them is questionable in that aspect and one of them has a degree in HR so I think she gets it, even though she does different work. The harder part is if one of them complains about an employee or their manager and I have to decide whether I’m friend first or HR first.

Me: Who do you talk about your day with?

Her: No one.

The cool thing about my HR friends is that we swap stories. Sometimes it’s how we reacted to an OFCCP letter, sometimes it’s how we reacted to the S.W.A.T. team jumping off our employers building, hunting an employee down, while we were big-months pregnant, but a lot of times it’s about something off the wall an employee did or said. You know who we can’t have those conversations with? Other people who work at the company and don’t have the same obligations of confidentiality. I can’t imagine not having anyone to swap these crazy stories with. The other thing that stood out to me about our conversation was that she preferred her close friends in the company outside of the HR department vs. inside the HR department. My instinct is to be friends with the HR department over outside of the HR department, generally speaking. will you be my friend

It would be cool if we all had grown-up-like friendships where we could say “while I’m here, I’m HR, please understand that and I’ll understand your role”, but there are these sneaky little things called human emotions and sometimes those human emotions impair our judgment. I’ve often heard the response from the HR pro in the scenario that “I would choose not to be involved in their disciplinary action,” it’s not always a disciplinary action that makes that relationship awkward! These emotions could be in response to a policy that HR is in charge of, the termination of a co-worker that your friend liked, your friend being overlooked for a promotion or pay increase, not hiring a referral your friend gave you, so on and so on. So I ask you, fellow HR pros, can you have friends in the workplace? How do you maintain those friendships? Which comes first HR duties or friend duties?

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Author: Kristina H. Minyard, SHRM-CP, PHR

My goal is to challenge the way we view, measure, and utilize HR and recruiting in a positive and encouraging way. I love working in HR and value the network of HR professionals that I also call friends. I'm always learning from my fellow HR pros and find comfort in their expertise. I'm an active member of my local SHRM chapter (NASHRM) and a total HR enthusiast! My HR related knowledge is a mix of recruiting, retaining, engaging and just plain helping people discover their passion. I'm a follower of Christ, Wife, Mom, Corporate Recruiter, Blogger, problem solver, runner, Sports FANATIC & Razorback surviving amongst the [crimson] tide! You can find me on twitter & Instagram: @HRecruit Snapchat: kminny32 Google+: https://plus.google.com/+KristinaMinyard LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kristinahutto/ Thoughts here (and on all my social media channels) are mine and do not represent the thoughts/beliefs of my employer. Why would I name my blog HR Pockets? Read about it in my first post years ago!!

6 thoughts on “Won’t you be my… friend?”

  1. I never want to be in the position to fire a friend so I keep my close relationships to fellow HR pros from other companies! I mean who else could I experience fear of birds, lugging massive bags through DC/Chicago and all of the other craziness that comes with being in HR with besides my HR peeps!!!

    1. LOL I was just telling a co-worker when I went to annual SHRM last year I caught myself being all “judgeyMcjudgey” when I watched HR pros let their hair down and start to party, but I realize now that generally speaking a conference with a ton of HR pros is the best place to do that. We are careful what we say and who we say it to, most of the time, so a place with thousands of other HR pros is ideally the safest place to cut loose, let it all out and move on! Now I’m not so judgey 😉

  2. I’ve been fortunate to have friends within the company I worked for that were outside of the HR department. I mean, real friends, who didn’t pump me for intel or give me the silent treatment, because I was promoted. The danger I ran into was getting too close to some blood-thirsty colleagues in my own department. As a safeguard, I now just stick to my HR pro friends outside of my company. 🙂

    1. I heard that a couple of times when I was asking around for personal experiences. I read a blog once that said it best-in a nutshell, we have to stop being bitches. We area all working towards a common good in HR and we need to remind ourselves occasionally that we are all on the same team! I also think it’s a bit different if you had those friends before you started in HR with the company, I think that changes the whole scenario!

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