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The Tension Between Managers and HR

Posted by Jessica Miller-Merrell

tension managers hr

There is a long and sometimes rigid history of differences between recruiters and managers over the best practices for hiring and retaining employees. This disconnect between managers and recruiters usually stems from not understanding what each other’s roles are when it comes to hiring, firing, performance reviews, and everything else involving the personnel file of an employee. In order to work together as a team, both sides must understand where they each fit as pieces of the bigger puzzle. This not only means that managers and HR should understand what functions they are each responsible for, it also means that companies must make clarifying the division of duties a priority.

When should a manager be involved in HR-related activities?

Most HR departments of smaller companies have an HR department of one, whereas a Fortune 500 company might have an entire department filled with HR practitioners who handle every aspect of HR for the business. The size of your company and current HR department is a major indicator of the type of involvement a manager should have when dealing with the entire candidate/staff lifecycle.

Companies who have an “HR Department of One” will have managers who are much more involved, compared to companies with a robust and fully-staffed HR department. In the first scenario, the manager will be more involved in sorting through resumes and interviewing candidates. He or she will work closely with the HR staffer on employee-related administrative tasks, and will hear employee concerns as much as a fully staffed HR department would.

Companies with a robust and fully staffed HR department will need less manager oversight in the entire process. Generally, the manager is the one who selects the candidates from those presented by HR and gives the final interviews, but for the most part he or she is usually focused on other parts of the business and not necessarily HR. Problems that persist in a manager’s department will most likely be forwarded to the HR department to handle, since HR serves as a neutral party between employees and their supervisors.

Should managers be more involved in HR activities?

In order to better understand how a company operates, those who are being vetted for managerial positions are sometimes given the opportunity to learn different functions of the business, including human resources. This practice is aimed at helping managers understand how the different departments of the company work together. Since HR deals with a lot of legal and ethical issues having to do with personnel, it can be an important area for managers to learn about.

However, when it comes to whether managers should actually be involved in the day-to-day functions of human resources as a rule, the answer is no. It’s important to keep a clear line of separation between business operations and the sometimes sensitive area of personnel issues.

The human resources field is complex and requires attention to individual rights and ethical personnel practices. With smaller companies, it’s harder to keep those lines of division in force, because managers must perform some important HR functions in order for the company to stay afloat. But as your company grows, it’s critical to have a standalone and separate HR department that assists employees and management in whatever issues may arise.

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About Jessica Miller-Merrell

Author

Jessica is listed as the 2nd most influential recruiter online and as the 8th most powerful woman on Twitter. She is the author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, a how-to business guide for Twitter users. She also writes for a number of leading publications, including Fortune, HR Magazine, SmartBrief, and HR Executive Magazine.

6 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Karin October, 16, 2014

    When we are talking about a manager’s involvement in HR-related activities, there is a big difference between small businesses management and corporate management. In a small business, managers tend to take control of everything, but this is the wrong approach. They should take a step back, trust their HR people, and let them do their job. In corporations, things are more structured and organized. Everybody is doing their own specific parts of the work.

  • PAUL FOREL October, 16, 2014

    This blog did not address the issues as the title would suggest. It was more a primer for college graduates and even so, it was a very thin blog.

    In fact, for some reason, the author, Ms. Jessica Miller-Merrell went so far as to describe that it is ‘more appropriate’ for HR to handle the administrative side of HR than department managers.

    Well, duh. You think? No one disputes that, Ms. Miller-Merrell.

    More to the point, the key issues that would normally be addressed when describing ‘tension’ between [hiring] managers and HR is the disconnect that typically exists in the methods HR uses to screen incoming applications and resumes and what the Hiring Authority/Manager would consider to be viable candidates.

    Contributing factors that lead to the breakdown between HR and HA’s are initial corporate HR staff who do not thoroughly understand the position specification/job description and subsequently screen out qualified candidates/applicants, those same HR staff who operate out of fear and won’t refer those candidates/applicants who may not exactly match the ps/jd but have the experience to execute the job and those HR staff who do the initial interviewing but do not have a grip on the culture of the department and/or HA and again subsequently screen out qualified candidates or worse, misrepresent the opportunity to candidates/applicants.

    These are issues that have plagued HA’s from day one.

    How many times have I heard a HA tell me s/he would rather do their own resume/application screening? Many times.

    The blog here mostly only thinly described the structure of an HR department but did nothing of material worth to discuss the disconnect that exists between HR and HA’s in general.

  • PAUL FOREL October, 16, 2014

    “How do you avoid these situations?”

    The first step would be to stop using the least experienced HR staff to screen and assess applications and candidates.

    The second would be for more companies to make a point of educating HR on the technical aspects of their various job descriptions.

    Many companies have internal recruiters who specialize by recruiting for specific departments and thus, they have a grip on the technical distinctions that make for a qualified candidate and they are also well familiar with the HA personalities and those HA’s druthers when it comes to assessing candidates.

    Too many companies still do not do this and instead use their HR recruiting staff to be ‘jacks of all trades/departments’ and do not adequately train their staff to be able to competently assess candidates.

    Candidates are read or shown a written job description and then are asked, “Can you do this?” and that is how candidates/applicants are screened.

    It’s 2014, people. Time to quit fine-tuning your ATS and instead focus on training your HR staff to be able to perform the most delicate and critical area of their profession.

  • Darrel Tyre October, 18, 2014

    I work in the HR department of a small business. At first it was really hard for me to make my manager understand that he has to let me do my job. He was always involved in the recruiting process, but in time I made him understand that my choices were more inspired and that people I hired fit better in their jobs.

  • Abby D. October, 20, 2014

    There will always be tension between managers and HR people, but the important aspect is to learn how to cooperate productively. As you already said, managers should stay close to their HR departments because they have to stay aware of how things are working, but they should not get involved in HR processes

  • Jessica Miller-Merrell October, 20, 2014

    @Paul,

    HR is not the flip flop police. We are here to be a business partner helping to advise and guide managers in the people aspect of their employees. While I prefer not to do the administrative tasks of HR like I-9 and OSHA documentation, they are an important part of my job working in HR.

    My experience with many managers is the expectation that I, as HR is the person to direct all employee personal problems and situations to. I am not a workplace therapist. I am here to help arm managers with information and resources to communicate with their teams.

    I avoid these conflicts by sitting down with my managers and getting to know them. I have lunch with them and work towards setting expectations on what my role in HR in working with them will be.

    Many years ago, I was called to a distribution plant to deal with an employee issue. A female employee was not properly disposing of their feminine products and wanted me to talk to all the female employees. The distribution manager and the assistant laughed at me when I entered their facility. They thought it was my job to fix this problem. Imagine their surprise when I set the expectation that I expected them to join me for the conversation with the female employees. Afterall, these are their employees.

    The tension between HR and managers is due to expectations between two parties or groups of individuals that are not aligned with one another. Tension is lessened when these two teams clearly define responsibilities and roles within the organization. It makes for a happier work environment where HR is a partner in helping the hiring manager and business leaders to succeed.

    I have fought with facility managers who I did not directly report to but the expectation was that HR’s job was to get them their coffee. For the record, I have always been an HR generalist who has been responsibilty for the recruiting as well as HR duties of my companies. I had generalists who focused on employee relationships and administrative tasks while others including my contract recruiters focused on hiring.

    Simply assigning an ATS to a recruiter does not make a recruiter someone who understands hiring. It simply means that they understand a workflow process using a technology. It has nothing to do with being a good recruiter or HR professional for a company.

    Each organization is different. I don’t think having recruiters do the hiring is always the most successful model. I was successful in my job and with recruiting because I did my research and took my time to understand the hiring manager, the facility, the economics of the location(s) I was recruiting for and formulate a plan of action. This preparation is no different than how I approached interacting with my managers and different facilities.

    Jessica Miller-Merrell

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