Hostile Work Environment -- Why Human Resources Doesn't Care About You
The H.R. Department Is NOT Where to Turn for Help With a Hostile Work Environment
In the course of the last year I have counseled hundreds of employees over the phone and via email who are suffering at their jobs, dreading the act of going into work each day, and full of panic that they may soon be fired. Usually a supervisor, and often a new supervisor, has turned the employee's otherwise likeable job into a series of run-in's, each one more humiliating and degrading than the last. When the employee reaches their absolute wit's end, they muster up their courage, write out their thoughts on a yellow pad, and sneak off to the Human Resources Department "to file a formal complaint." When the distressed employee arrives he or she doesn't know their legal rights or have a grasp of what actions a supervisor can legally take at work. So the employee sits down in an office with a smiling H.R. Rep on the other side of the desk. It's so nice to have someone to talk to, someone to finally listen, that the employee spills out all their throughts and frustrations that have been building up inside. The H.R. Rep smiles and nods and writes down some notes. The employee is comforted by the smiling and nodding, and so the employee keeps talking, telling H.R. every unfair or hurtful thing the boss has said or done.
When The Meeting With H.R. is Over
After meeting with H.R. most employees feel better about their situation. They feel "heard"; they feel like the company is taking their concerns seriously. The employee is confident that it will not be long until their bullying boss gets what is coming to them.
H.R. typically says "We will thoroughly look into the important issues you've raised," and "We'll get back to you next week." The week goes slowly, but it does seem like the boss is treating the employee better that week. The employee wonders if H.R. already interviewed the boss, who now understands that his or her bullying ways had better change, or they could lose their job.
The Post-Investigation Meeting With H.R.
The employee who "filed a formal complaint" with Human Resources feels better for the week in between meetings with H.R. The employee then hears from the H.R. Rep, who says that the investigation is complete. The H.R. Rep would like the employee to "come meet with me to go over it." The employee imagines reading through the pages of an investigation report that confirms the boss is a serial harasser and employee abuser. The employee imagines the boss being demoted or suspended, and possibly even fired.
It's with these thoughts in mind that the employee goes to the Human Resources Department for the follow up meeting. The H.R. Rep greets the employee at the entrance to the department -- the Rep is still smiling and seems genuinely happy to see the employee. The employee smiles back.
The H.R. Rep guides the employee past the office where they talked before, and gestures instead to a confernence room. The employee steps inside, and as the H.R. Rep shuts the door behind them the employee receives the shock of her life.
The Tables are Turned
The employee walks into the conference room and looks at who is sitting at the table. Seated across it is the scowling VP of H.R. and the employee's own boss. The employee's boss is grinning.
What happens next is the workplace version of a bloodbath. The H.R. Rep sits down next to the employee (and the H.R. Rep is still smiling) and says "We thoroughly investigated your complaint and we were unable to substantiate any of the issues you mentioned. Because there is no illegal discrimination here, your complaint is now closed."
"However," says the VP of HR with a furrowed brow, "your own job performance, or lack there of, is very concerning." As the VP of H.R. says this he opens a thick file, and passes around copies of a five page document titled "Employee Mid-Year Performance Review." The bully supervisor continues to sit there in silence, nodding and smirking.
The employee is so shocked and distraught that he or she has difficulty remembering the details of what was said for the rest of the meeting. An hour later the employee leaves the conference room in stunned silence. The employee leaves carrying a two page document titled "Final Employee Written Warning>" The employee does not go back to working for the rest of the day, but instead drives home and goes to bed. The next day the employee calls in sick, and is thinking that resigning may be the only option.
"What happened?" The employee keeps asking, over and over. "How did that happen?"
Who Does H.R. Work For?
If you put your trust in H.R. to help you fight back against your bully boss, this is what will happen to you, too. Not to say that you should never go to H.R., but don't count on them to fix anything for you. In fact, you should expect them to attack and undermine your complaint.
Why? Because this is what H.R. is paid to do. Human Resources' purpose is to save the company money by defending the company against claims by employees. H.R. is paid to be on the other side. HR is the other side.