Why do people hate HR?

From start-ups to conglomerates, very few people show love for a critical and important department within a company.

Here’s why.

1. They don’t like to hear women tell them what to do. Or gay people. Or anybody who seems as if they’re in a lower socioeconomic class. Look at your company. HR is a majority-minority department. So when people say that institutional sexism (and racism and classism) isn’t a thing, I wonder why they take direction from CEOs and outside advisors but not their local HR representatives.

2. They don’t respect men who act like women. Life is a lot easier for dudes in human resources, but it’s not that much easier. Guys are still hassled and asked to explain themselves much more often than most other departments, which is why HR is often on the cutting edge of using data and analytics. It’s also why we need to be data-driven if we’re not. We can tell you why you need to make decisions, but you won’t believe us. So let us show you with manly tools like sophisticated spreadsheets and jargon-laden reports.

3. They have issues with control. It’s easier to take direction from someone in your department or division because they’re part of your tribe. You’ve built a relationship, and you trust their judgment. And it’s easy to transfer that confidence to similar work units because, for the most part, they look and act like you. They’re just trying to get the job done. But HR doesn’t look and act like you. And as hard as HR works to earn your trust, most people don’t believe what they can’t envision controlling.

4. They don’t trust themselves. Let’s be honest: if people could show up for work and behave themselves, whatever that means in a complicated world, we wouldn’t need HR. But, instead, people come to work and act selfishly. It’s ego first, team second. While it’s not your local HR lady’s job to be your mom, your boss somehow lacks the character to have a crucial conversation with you. So it falls to an external force, your human resources team, to help with corrective action and training. Instead of holding one another accountable and appealing to the highest common denominator, people resent HR instead of resenting themselves.

5. They hate thinking about other people. When you hear people complain about HR, you hear them say things like, “HR gets in the way.” It’s true that HR gets in the way, my friends. It slows people down from making horrible mistakes that affect others. If HR gets in your way, thank your lucky stars. You were probably about to do something stupid and selfish.

Why do people hate HR? Well, sometimes we hate ourselves and our behaviors but lack the language to express our personal and profound disappointment. So we transfer that anger to others, especially those who don’t have the power to fight back. Luckily, your local HR lady feels sorry for you and wants you to be the best version of yourself. So she’ll take your abuse if it means that, in the end, you turn it around and do your job better.

And here’s something you need to hear: HR might not make you happy. It might drive you crazy. But people hate HR because they see something in themselves that they don’t like.

Maybe go work on that.

20 Responses to Why Do People Hate HR?
  1. Scott Woodard

    Why do people hate HR? Well, here’s a slightly different perspective…

    Entrepreneurs at startups don’t like to be told “you can’t do that.” By nature, entrepreneurs want to push the envelope. HR, like legal, needs to provide solutions rather than obstacles.

    Employees hate HR because HR doesn’t have their back in disputes with their bosses; enforces arcane rules; continually changes benefit packages making it difficult to know just what their families’ health options are.

    Job applicants hate HR because never responds, hence earning its sobriquet “the black hole.” HR is not a good ambassador for the company.

    People hate HR because HR doesn’t take a leadership role in the company. It’s a compliance driven bureaucracy that rarely adds value.

    • Kate

      Preach.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      I’ve written extensively that we don’t need HR if managers and supervisors leverage automation/technology and do the work they should be doing instead of outsourcing it to a group of women and complaining about it.

      Let’s take one of your examples: the candidate experience. Don’t like the way job applicants are managed at your company? You’re not helpless. You don’t need HR’s permission to solve that problem. Propose a process to your CIO/COO/CHRO. Fix it. But I’ll tell you this much — candidates are regularly mistreated by managers and supervisors who can’t make decisions and suffer from a paradox of choice. It’s easy to blame HR, tougher to take accountability and do the right thing.

    • Mark Gilligan

      HR isn’t their to back employees against their bosses, it’s not about taking sides it’s about making sure that the right things happen. HR is there to protect the business not a tool for employees to beat their bosses over their head with and employees need to realise this.

      You want HR to provide solutions, involve them as early in the process as possible. Not at the end when they have to start to put out fires that are burning uncontrollably. We want to be a business partner but that only works if the business wants us to act that way.

      Yes they may say you can’t do that, but involve them earlier and they may say you can’t do that but you can do it this way without the risks you would have had.

      You don’t want to be spending a lot of time, energy and money only to get to the end and find out there are problems that will require a complete rethink of how you get to where you want to be.

      Want us to take a leadership role in the company give us the opportunity to do so. If all you use your HR for is to make sure you are compliant and deal with things when they go wrong they wont add as much value as you or they would like to.

      HR is there to provide advise and support our organisations to be the best they can be but within the legal frameworks provided by government. We are experts in our field use us correctly and we will deliver even greater value.

      By sometimes telling you you can’t do that we add value because we save the company money from not being fined or having to pay compensation for a wrong doing that could have been easily avoided.

  2. Micole Kaye

    Great post. Very insightful…and a little painful to read. Why do people suck so much? (If they didn’t, would we need HR?)

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      You’re thinking like a business leader, Micole. Good question.

  3. Emily

    I like to sum this up as “I make you uncomfortable.” And since I find it a little fun to watch the leaders I support squirm, I fit well in the HR world.

  4. Dennis Raymond

    Unfortunately, HR personnel often only perform control activities with enthusiasm and in a vacuum.

    Many HR folks do not understand their employer’s business and strategic needs.

    HR often performs their control activities in in opposition to operation personnel rather than with their cooperation.

    HR has an obligation to sell its value to Operations and coordinate with Operations.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      Consultants always say stuff like this. Does it even mean anything, bro?

  5. George A

    Hi Laurie

    I think Scott Woodard really summarised the reasons well in the comments section when he said :

    Employees hate HR because HR doesn’t have their back in disputes with their bosses; enforces arcane rules

    People hate HR because HR doesn’t take a leadership role in the company. It’s a compliance driven bureaucracy that rarely adds value

    Job applicants hate HR because HR never responds (only automated email responses), hence earning its sobriquet “the black hole.” HR is not a good ambassador for the company

    These are really the top three reasons why employees think HR is useless and makes no difference to the quality of their work life or career in a company. I have spent more than 16 years in various large and small organizations and have seen the exact same things play out in the respective HR departments. I have heard co-workers (not leaders or managers) voice the exact same sentiments when discussing about their HR department of HR business partner. The reasons you have cited in this article can also be genuine ones, but if you make a list of top 10 reasons on ‘why do people hate HR?’ these won’t figure in that list.

    I hope you will write a more honest and serious article on the top reasons why people hate HR after talking to people outside your HR community.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      I don’t have an HR community. I don’t even work in HR.

  6. Denis W Barnard

    HR should not be telling anyone in the organisation what to do, other than other HR people. Nor are they employed as employee advocates, much as some of the ‘fluffier’ arm of HR wpuld love to be. HR is surely about providing means to enable employers to develop capabilities to achieve max performance from the employees. In my millennia of HR years, people hate HR because they have traditionally projected an aura of being all-knowledgable about company affairs and peoples’ salaries in a superior way. Thankfully, thanka to people like LR that is changing….

  7. Eric Peterson

    I have to agree with Scott. It’s the opposite of the phenomenon that causes people to hate Congress but love their individual Congressperson. People think HR is supposed to be the department that looks out for employees, but very few have that experience when dealing with any individual HR professional, who works more for the suits in the corner offices that the little guys and gals.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      Both could be true.

      You know, the rise in the anti-HR rhetoric corresponds with the rise in HR’s diversity. We don’t trust what we don’t know, and we hate taking direction from the unfamiliar and the untrusted.

  8. Adina

    As a former engineer, who switched to HR, I do understand business goals and I know how to drive results. HR is always the last department in the organization. We can’t participate in some rewards, and/ or enjoy company events, because we need to plan, arrange an clean-up after an event. Our work si never recognized, departments understaffed. We barely get bonuses, and our leaders don’t recognize our work.
    we are certified, educated, but we are always press to do tedious tasks.

    • Laurie Ruettimann

      I know. You should fight back. NO is a powerful word.

  9. Keith

    None out of five, Laurie. Scott Woodward provides much better reasons. Your post, and HR in general, seems to take the view that it is always the employee who is defective. That is why HR is “hated”.

    HR needs less smugness and more empathy if it is to become a respected part of any business…

  10. Rachael

    The running joke in my last company was that I was constantly telling people to be the ‘bigger person’ (I think I actually said it once!). It must have resonated… 🙂

  11. Richard Davis

    I have worked in the human resource/talent management world for many years. I have also managed operations in the US and Canada. I have never been hated. I may have had many who disagreed because my perspective did not fit their agenda, but never hated. I believe the core beliefs I follow in business makes it difficult to hate. 1-Everyone has worth and value; 2-Everyone has the “potential’ to do great things; 3-Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. No matter what side of the table I have sat, those around me knew without a doubt I was an advocate to always do the right thing. Sadly, I have worked with and know of some people in HR that have created an environment close to what Laurie describes. What a waste of time.