The Problem With HR

Source: Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic, July 2019

For 30 years, we’ve trusted human-resources departments to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment. How’s that working out?

…The experience left me with a question: If HR is such a vital component of American business, its tentacles reaching deeply into many spheres of employees’ work lives, how did it miss the kind of sexual harassment at the center of the #MeToo movement? And given that it did, why are companies still putting so much faith in HR? I returned to these questions many times over the course of the following year, interviewing workplace experts, lawyers, management consultants, and workers in the field.

Finally, I realized I had it all wrong. The simple and unpalatable truth is that HR isn’t bad at dealing with sexual harassment. HR is actually very good at it…..

…..But the real reason many workers don’t love human resources is that while the department often presents itself as functioning like a union—the open door for worker complaints, the updates on valuable new benefits—it is not a union. In a strong job market, HR is the soul of generosity, making employees feel valued and significant. But should the economy change, or should management decide to go in another direction, HR can just as quickly become assassin as friend…..

….If employers judged HR departments by their ability to prevent sexual harassment, most would have gotten a failing grade long ago. What HR is actually responsible for—one of the central ways the department “adds value” to a company—is serving as the first line of defense against a sexual-harassment lawsuit. These two goals are clearly aligned, but if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that you can achieve the latter without doing much of anything at all about the former…..