Recommended I Should Have Never Trusted HR to Keep My Secret

We are encouraged to talk with HR if there are problems at work.   Read this article from Forbes magazine.

JAN 16, 2018 @ 03:03 PM 128,495 

I Should Never Have Trusted HR To Keep My Secret

Liz Ryan , CONTRIBUTOR Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Dear Liz,

I work for a bank. I've worked here for five and a half years.

A year ago we got a new manager, "Sam." Sam was transferred to our location from another state. It was very mysterious. Our previous manager got promoted and left our facility and we were happy for her. We were never told why Sam was moved into our old manager's job.

Sam was a big problem from the minute he got here. He's a bully. He yells at people, and puts them down in public. He's a terrible manager, and very insecure. I tried to steer clear of him.

Luckily Sam never gave me a hard time personally but he was awful to several of my co-workers. Within three months after Sam's arrival, three good employees left.

Everyone in my location is miserable. At least half the staff is job-hunting, and they all give the same reason they want to leave: Sam.

There is no HR person in our location. I don't even know who our regional HR contact person is. However, I was in the company's regional HQ in November for a two-day meeting.

I met an HR Manager who seemed to be smart and reasonable. She knew about the turnover problem in our branch. She brought it up in our conversation.

She asked me "Why have so many people left your branch lately?"

I gave her a quick rundown of the situation in our location and the way Sam's management style was driving employees to quit.

The HR Manager "Nina" told me that my story greatly alarmed her and she wanted to meet with me to get more details. So, I stayed in the HQ location an extra day and met with Nina.

I told her everything. I believed her when she said "This kind of thing should not be going on — I'll make sure it is taken care of!"

I asked her "Can you keep my name out of it?"

She said "Of course! Our conversations are completely confidential."

I'm not an idiot. I knew I was taking a risk, but I didn't realize things would get so bad, so fast.

By the time I got back to my office, Sam already knew I had reported him to HR. Somebody must have called or emailed him immediately after I talked to Nina in what I was promised was a confidential discussion.

Since I was the only person from our office who had been to headquarters, naturally he knew who ratted him out. He called me into his office.

Sam started the conversation by saying "If you don't like working for me, you can leave right now." I had no choice but to speak up.

I said "Sam, I haven't had problems with you but your management style is hurting the company. Good employees are leaving. If you're not concerned about losing talent that's your privilege but the HR Manager at HQ asked me why people keep leaving our branch, and I told her."

Sam looked like he was about to faint. He looked panicky. "What did you tell them exactly?" he asked. "I just told them to talk to the employees here," I said.

Guess what Liz? No one ever talked to the employees here. They called Sam to headquarters, he was gone for a few days and then he came back. Nothing changed.

Of course, Sam will barely speak to me now and I know my days at this company are numbered.

Last week Sam took away my private office and put me in a cubicle. I'm surprised he didn't think of that sooner. I'm sure the only reason he hasn't fired me yet is that it would look suspicious if I had five years of success here, then I reported my boss to HR and then I got fired.

I'm job-hunting, of course. I don't think I will ever trust an HR person again.

Yours,

Faith

Dear Faith,

A lot of folks in HR want to do the right thing but they don't know how and they don't have the juice to fix what's broken in their organizations. Nina undoubtedly wanted to resolve the problems with Sam's leadership style but the minute she told somebody above her what she had heard, the problem was whisked off her desk and out of her hands.

It is risky to confide in HR. I advise people who are dealing with the most serious workplace issues (like sexual harassment or discrimination) to meet with an employment lawyer first, before they talk to HR. That's how bad things have gotten. Your story is a sad reminder.

Your problem is not with Nina or even with Sam, but with the people who put Sam into his current role and left him there to do damage.

Sam was probably moved into your location because he had had similar problems in his previous role. Weak managers move people around instead of dealing with them forthrightly.

You are smart to job-hunt given all that's transpired. You have some lead time because as you point out, Sam would have a hard time firing you now that you reported his behavior to HR. If he tried to, you'd waste no time going to see a plaintiffs' side employment lawyer.

The real problem with HR is that the function has become so fear-based and protective that it is dangerous just to walk into HR and tell them anything, even as well-meaning HR people like Nina protest "We're here to help! Please, tell us everything!"

That's not wise. Too many leaders view the role of HR as protecting the firm against its own employees. The real job of HR is to make the organization an amazing place to work — a place where the industry's top talent wants to be.

It takes a tough HR leader to insist on that vision for HR, as opposed to the traditional policy-enacting, rule-enforcing mindset.

It was time for you to leave the bank anyway. Everything that happened with Sam and Nina happened for a reason. That bank building is too small to contain your growing flame!

All the best,

Liz

Liz Ryan is CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap. Follow her on Twitter and read Forbes columns. Liz's book Reinvention Roadmap is here.

Nancy Koury King, DM