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Looks like Kivin was surprised when HR told his manager that he requested to be transferred. His manager then used this information against him, by putting him into a 'performance improvement program' which blocks transfers to any other group for some period of time.

Let me let Kivin and any one else working for a company in on a little secret. HR is not your friend. HR is not there to protect you and your career. HR is there to protect the company AGAINST you.

To the extent that your goals and the company's do not conflict, HR can be helpful. (Need some help with your health insurance or your 401k? HR is awesome!)

But if you're going to HR about an issue that could be damaging to the company, HR will gladly listen to you sharing confidential information while quietly working with the leadership to build a case against you or protect themselves. If you're caught in a situation that could potentially lead to a legal dispute with the company (serious conflict with mgmt as seen here, discrimination, etc), make sure you document EVERYTHING, put as much in writing/email as possible and tread carefully before sharing too much info with HR. They won't be in your corner when shit hits the fan.

"HR is not your friend" needs to be standard career advice.

My experiences with HR:

- Often staffed by aggressive, yet very sociable and smiley people. They would nail you to a cross if the directors demanded it.

- Even a basic knowledge of labour laws is not a pre-requisite for a career in HR. That is because there is little regard for them by the C-levels.

- Try and avoid them. Do not go running to HR. Sort it out yourself or work it out with your boss. If the problem is your boss, it's likely that they're much friendlier with HR and treated with much more respect than you. If you do go to HR, think hard about how you are respected and viewed at the company.

While working at Apple I made the mistake of thinking HR was going to be helpful. I was offered a new position there and took it but only on the grounds that I would not have any duties related to my old position. I was told that was acceptable. Three Weeks after starting my new role they started giving me my old duties back. I complained this was against the agreement we had on me accepting my new position. The HR ref played dumb and would only say "Well Apple has invested a lot of time and money into you, do you expect them to not utilize the you as a resource?" I had one additional encounter with them regarding a manager who had been, as I saw it, mistreating me. I was assured the conference between is was confidential. An hour after that meeting I was called into a room to sit and face three managers who grilled me about why I was dissatisfied with them. It was one of the most uncomfortable meetings I have ever had. I had no clue how to react and realized then and there my days were numbered. HR is definitely not your friend.

"Even a basic knowledge of labour laws is not a pre-requisite for a career in HR."

This is the surprising thing to me. My wife works in HR, but is also an attorney and her boss and boss's boss are also attorneys. They run their department substantially more in line with federal and state laws than just about any other I've encountered. When we're talking with friends and other people who work in HR, she usually later tells me everything they're doing wrong and it's interesting how far off-base many companies are.

You should take a look at some of the organizations involved in the HR field. They seem to be designed to sell training (someone reads you a powerpoint) and certifications while providing nearly zero real value. The companies that they refer people to for services can be of dubious quality. It seems like a market that is ripe for disruption.

Interesting I have thought that might be a market for consultants to come in early and sort out problems like they had at github recently.

Id be the good cop and my old mate Pat Mulligan who's Industrial relations for the post office could be the bad/cop legal muscle.

It seems that way, but remember who's writing the checks for HR services. As long as cost of legal settlements < benefits of using HR to suit management, there's no incentive to buy into compliance-driven HR providers.

Others have pointed out in this discussion that keeping cost of legal settlements low is arguably the number one benefit management is looking for from HR, so if they're not getting that right, there's probably not much benefit to employing them at all.

I wasn't terribly surprised. Being ignorant of labour laws that empower employees (or at least appear to) is a convenient excuse for treating staff horribly in certain situations.

Of course I've been in situations where HR don't know the laws and others where they chose to ignore them or denied their existence.

I worked for a company that knew enough about labor laws to fire half the maintenance staff and then make the remaining supervisors all salaried "assistant managers" so they could keep them on-call 24/7 and work them as much overtime as needed. Manipulating the position requirements and duties on paper to make it seem like they were more white-collar than blue-collar was easy.

When it comes to saving money, HR departments educate themselves rather well in regards to the law.

What that company did was not legal. One of the requirements for classifying an employee as a "manager" is that they actually manage subordinates as part of their duties. If everyone was an assistant manager, none of them were, and they would have been entitled to overtime. (And the company subject to heinous penalties for labor violations.)

This is where a little bit of knowledge is very dangerous. Companies read a small part of the laws and think it's very simple to reclassify hourly employees to salaried employees. It's not.

And US government units really care about this because among other things, you're not getting paid overtime, and they've not getting their cut in taxes on that.

Is your thesis there really that individuals in the federal government (beyond those at the IRS specifically charged with being concerned with it) are so concerned about tax compliance that it is one of their primary motivations when doing their job?

In the US, at least, if the supervisors pursued legal action, they'd have a case if their job duties were closer to those of non-exempt employees than exempt ones.

Also, this is why labor still organizes in the US, even if organization is down substantially over what it used to be.

Unfortunately, the state that this occurred in has considerably defanged unions. There is one for the workers of this company, and its a subset of a national union, but they have no power and the company merely humors them just for good show.

And yes, if the workers had pursued legal action, I think they would have had a case, but these people were somewhere around lower middle class or poverty level and they were very afraid of losing their jobs. Knowing them, and others who are in similar situations, I completely understand and sympathize. When you're treated like crap, but given the illusion that you're respected and needed, you'll convince yourself that everything is "good enough." I myself did it for many years.

I'm self employed now, so take the following with a grain sf salt - it worked for me though. When I was dealing with HR, I made sure to growl a lot while talking, and stand in front of the only exit. There's a kind of sociopath that will only act with some consideration if they realize that their skeletal integrity is at risk, because they're the sort of people who would do that to others if given the chance. I don't beat up people at random, but you can bet that at least some sociopaths would if they thought they could get away with it - use it against them. Not to mean that all HR folks are sociopath, but you do get quite a few.

That's a bit dicey - the kind of thing that may work delightfully well and be justified and appropriate in maybe like 1% of cases, and be excessive and likely to backfire horribly in the other 99%. But then, there's the issue of having to be like that pretty much all the time for it to be really believable and effective. Use at your own risk.

That's probably the reason that guy is now self employed

Actually it's because I realized that I could make three quarters of the money while working less than half the time :) I'll never be rich, but I'll always have time to tinker and do a bit of volunteer work. Also, no commuting, that's a good 10 hours a week I'm gaining for myself right there.

That's awful! You should never even insinuate physical threats like that. You're putting yourself and others at risk by doing so and permanently harming your own reputation.

Look, I'm not hopelessly naïve (most of the time) and understand very well about standing up to what's right, but there's a way to do that without acting like this. Even if the person you're dealing with is a sociopath, even if they're terrible human beings, there are ways around them that don't rely to threats, real or implied.

Negotiation takes a lot of nuances, verbal and physical, but you can achieve a lot diplomatically without being intimidating physically.

I understand where you're coming from, but I disagree completely.

Edit: Also, I didn't downvote you because what you brought up was still interesting and allowed me to voice my opinion.

The last time I hit anyone without provocation I was 9 years old, I got such a thrashing from my dad that my grandchildren will remember the lesson, trust me.

That said, some people can only think in terms of who can kick who's ass - for them might IS right. The stupid ones become muggers and extortionists, the smart ones get a system (legal, corporate, etc) to fight their battles for them.

I see no moral problem with presenting them with a simplified model of their worldview, it's their choice, I am just showing that I am willing to make it manifest.

Like I said, take with a grain of salt.

Totally agree. When I was young and foolish I reported harassment to HR. I was friends with a female colleague and we'd go out to lunch every now and then. Our mutual boss would call her in and say things like.. "What did he ask you about at lunch? You know, he's just trying to act like your friend so you tell him secrets." It happened several times, and finally one day I went to HR about it. I was asked to resign literally the same day.

It turned out, as it often does, to be a blessing. And it absolutely taught me the role of HR.

What did you do? Doesn't resigning save the company costs related to firing and/or employment insurance?

I'm surprised so many people have negative experiences with HR. Perhaps I've been lucky, or perhaps it is because we have a different culture in Scandinavia, but my experiences are almost entirely positive.

I guarantee the culture around labor and labor-management relations is different in Scandinavia and the US, no 'perhaps' about it.

As the parent said, in situations like asking about benefits, they're great because to me it's like talking to a sales team.

Have you ever, for example, had a contract change forced upon you, benefits taken away/downgraded, had long-time overtime policies changed, experience blatant discrimination? It's been my experience in cases such as those, you find out who HR works for.

> Have you ever, for example, had a contract change forced upon you, benefits taken away/downgraded, had long-time overtime policies changed, experience blatant discrimination? It's been my experience in cases such as those, you find out who HR works for.

A company trying that in scandinavia would be committing suicide, they'd get smashed by their union reps and would get shunned by other companies (Nordics have a labor model similar to germany, cooperative and regulated by collective bargaining agreement at multiple levels, generally starting at the "economic sector" level and filtering down. A company trying to break labor agreements which others have to follow in such a way would be seen very badly)

It's a good thing America has very few pesky Unions.At least in in IT jobs.

I've had long-time overtime policies changed for the better, actually! It was great. We had went from not getting paid for fixing servers on xmas eve, to a clear and well paid system of who was on call.

I have less than great experiences with HR as well, sure, but I don't agree that it's as horrible as many here describe it.

I've also had only good experiences with HR. I've always worked in pretty small companies where I have good relationships across the board. I feel truly sorry for folks who have demons working down the hall from them trying to take away their benefits. I wonder, why stay?

Some people love their work. Also, not everyone has an offer on hand for when they want out.

My wife is from Sweden and I spend a lot of time there. I'm moving there in a couple of years. Scandinavia definitely has a culture that does not tolerate the kinds of things we have in the States. It is definitely a cultural difference.

> Even a basic knowledge of labour laws is not a pre-requisite for a career in HR.

This might be a US-centric view. In the UK if you don't know employment law you're no use as an HR professional. Your line managers almost certainly don't so HR are often the only people who do.

But junior hr generalists probably will know very little in my experience ha done in BT who was oblivious to exactly what the division she was nominally assigned to did and who the employees where.

It's my Britain-centric experience ;) (and not a view of the entire HR industry).

I agree with your statement but I do not think it disagrees with mine. Perhaps I should have said "for a job in HR".

It's only up at the more senior legal end that hr will know much about the legal side of employment or how to handle things profesionaly when they go pear shaped.

Using this opportunity to plug the book Corporate Confidential. It will save your career.


A few takeaways.

1. Performance improvement plans are not for performance improvement. They are for firing employees. Management already formed an irreversible negative view. It is too late.

2. You cannot win a case against the company. Because a) companies have more resources and b) even if you do win then other companies will mark you as a troublemaker. Getting hired is going to get a lot harder.

3. If you insist on fighting then do document everything. Supposedly you need a few months of notes. In other words, being called a slur once or twice does not make a hostile work environment. If HR is unaware then the company is not liable, but if you share your notes then you won't win the case anyway. There are a few narrow forms of discrimination that are claimable but the best option is to keep your head down and find a new job.

4. Do not document anything on company software or networks. My friend got to learn what Data Loss prevention software really did.

5. HR has zero legal obligation to keep your secrets. Their job is to identify threats to the company. They literally get paid to share your secrets.

Bonus anectode: I went to HR and asked "Are you legally required to keep things I tell you confidential? For example, if I tell you I want to leave then will you tell my boss?"

Her answer to my second question was no, but guess what my boss and I talked about the next day!

> even if you do win then other companies will mark you as a troublemaker. Getting hired is going to get a lot harder.

This isn't really true. Most businesses don't do thorough background checks and the frequency of people claiming fake degrees w/o getting caught is proof of that.

I've known two people who successfully sued their employer. One had no trouble getting a job after that. It was the second suit that they lost that caused their issues (they looked like they were paranoid and had mental issues based on the company's successful defense). Even tho they are a friend of my parents, my parents and I both agree that they weren't acting all there at the time and that likely came across in interviews.

The other one only had trouble because the area was so small it was literally the only member of that industry within 300 miles. No one wanted to pay for relocation for non-management positions during a recession. Once they relocated with their own money, they had no issues.

I've never heard of an instance of someone being "blacklisted" outside of a failed lawsuit where they were shown to be deceptive and/or mentally unstable.

> This isn't really true. Most businesses don't do thorough background checks and the frequency of people claiming fake degrees w/o getting caught is proof of that.

That depends more on how well the hiring decision makers at the companies you apply to network. Even in a large metro area like Los Angeles chances are that if you are in management at a software company you will have a second degree connection with someone at an applicant's previous employer. You might not get blacklisted from "software," but you might be blacklisted from companies funded by a particular VC firm, or where managers attend the same CTO meetups, etc.

Answering unsolicited reference requests is supposed to be an invitation to defamation lawsuits, but in my experience it's the norm and not the exception.

You are right. It isn't true for a lot of companies. Big places like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google won't care.

EDIT: do want to add a hostile work environment can wear down any mentally robust person.

Of course. Hostile work environment = GTFO ASAP :) I'm just saying the "blacklist" bit was overstated imo.

Not true. My sister won a LARGE (over half a million dollars) sexual harassment lawsuit against her employer. In fact, it wasn't an ongoing thing but one incident and the way HR handled this incident. After she left the company, she went back to school and got a job afterwards at a large hospital. She hasn't ever had problems finding employment even though her name is easily Googeable and shows that she won a large settlement against her previous employer.

If everything you state is true, then your sister is the exception to the norm. My wife works in HR and pretty much everything mentioned above is true. There is a very large, fortune-5, company going through a name & blame game with another very large supplier over an ignition switch problem and the PIP process mentioned above is what I've seen too. HR folks are not your friends.

I'm not contesting that HR is not your friends. I'm contesting nearly everything else that was said.

Actually it seems you are contesting point 2 and 3 of the 5 that were listed, or you think the others are wrong too?

Yes, in many incidences finding another job is not impacted. But if you are in a city with only a handful of tech start ups then chances are you won't work for another one any time soon. I imagine more HN readers work at tech start-ups than hospitals.

As for winning cases and payout sums: your anecdotal data point is your sister. My source is the EEOC. Each field offices investigates hundreds of claims per year but only a few are accepted. The odds of an individual claim being winnable is small.

Winning half a million dollars also sounds made up. According to the legal award limits it is not possible. Then again IANAL.


Man, you folks are cynical. Having done a stint in a people management role at a tech company I can attest that things aren't always this straightforward.

- PIPs are definitely the tool you use when you want to fire someone, but they're also the tool you want to use to get someone's attention when all else has failed. I had to give a PIP to an employee who just could not get his head in the game. I had absolutely no desire to fire him.

- I have definitely witnessed HR stand up to managers and push back on plans to fire employees who haven't had adequate time to fix their conduct and turn things around. You can argue that they're protecting the company from wrongful termination liability, but I know at least one of the HRfolk involved and that was definitely not his primary motivation.

I get thinking that big corporations are only driven by profits and are therefore always going to be selfish/evil (though I don't really believe it) but I don't get thinking that blanket statements/accusations about individual people in these organizations could possibly be true. There are well-meaning HRpeople in the world, and managers who mean what they say. Maybe not as many as there should be, but still lots.

I appreciate the irony of linking to the book on Amazon

1. Performance improvement plans are not for performance improvement. They are for firing employees. Management already formed an irreversible negative view. It is too late.

In my experience it's not quite so clear cut.

When you are put on a PIP the company has decided what outcome it is seeking, and you have little-to-no control over that, but it might not be planning to fire you.

I've see all three of the following:

1. You are being "managed out". You are expected to resign, or the company will document enough performance issues to fire you. You will not win.

2. The company wants to make you conform to their expectations. They've done a cost-benefit analysis and decided that "fixing you" is going to be cheaper than getting rid of you and hiring in someone else with the necessary skills. This usually happens when you have a history of good performance and they just want you to "return to prior performance levels". However, if you don't conform to their expectations you will be fired.

3. Your job is safe, but you did something that embarrassed someone senior and they want to remind you that they have the power and such behaviour will not be tolerated. The PIP is all for show - so that you don't forget your place.

> Performance improvement plans are not for performance improvement. They are for firing employees. Management already formed an irreversible negative view. It is too late.

While this ends up mostly true in practice, I have known people who were able to turn things around after being put on a PIP.

> You cannot win a case against the company. Because a) companies have more resources and b) even if you do win then other companies will mark you as a troublemaker. Getting hired is going to get a lot harder.

There is a flip side to this. The company wants to ensure it has a water tight case against you, to ensure the complaints are dismissed before going to court. Otherwise, if there is any merit to your complaint, despite the company having more resources than you, they do not wish to be tied up in legal entanglements. This is why HR and Management document everything heavily.

I don't have the source handy, but in the US workplace legal disputes is the number one costs to companies.

Though it is certainly possible, it is better to take a PIP to mean "Start looking for a new job NOW."

> I don't have the source handy, but in the US workplace legal disputes is the number one costs to companies.

You're really going to have to qualify that somehow. It can't possibly be close to true in that form.

Fair point. I stepped away and did not have a chance to edit the post to qualify it as legal costs.

Labor tends to be one of business' largest costs as well, so labor-related legal being the largest category of legal costs is (if true) not unreasonable.

> I have known people who were able to turn things around after being put on a PIP.

I'm one!

It took a few hours of introspection but I applied a new focus and drive to aligning my personal goals with the company's goals. Have not looked back since.

> even if you do win then other companies will mark you as a troublemaker. Getting hired is going to get a lot harder.

This. If you're ever suing a company for a grievance, make sure the potential winnings are enough for you never to work for another company again. It's illegal but you will be black listed.

So basically that book could consist of one page.

"You're screwed"

Heh. It's not that bad.

1) Very few of us suffer from the legal definition of discrimination. (Being mistaken for the secretary sucks but it's not illegal.) The book gives us realistic options.

2) Most of the time we just deal with an unfavorable boss or upper management. The book gives more actionable options there.

Are you sure the answer provided was only for the second question and not the first? Did HR provide one answer after you asked both of those questions concurrently? If so, that answer was for the first question and no answer was provided for the second.

I know you say that was her answer to the second question, but the way you frame your quote it looks like you asked them consecutively before a response from her in-between. As they say, the devil is in the details.

Yes I am sure. I paraphrased the exchange to fit into a HN comment.

> 1. Performance improvement plans are not for performance improvement. They are for firing employees. Management already formed an irreversible negative view. It is too late.

As just about any manager on here will tell you, this is complete bunk. Being on a performance improvement plan obviously isn't good, but I've had many people complete their plan successfully, and not only that, but go on to long & successful careers.

Obviously not everything of this sort is the same everywhere in all cases, but the parent statement is largely true. It's also exceptionally true in high turnoff corporations like Amzn.

Even in the corner cases where the manager/HR was acting in good faith, the employee will be under the thumb of his superiors; even if someone manages to survive intact the PIP will be a mark on someone's record they can do without. It's something that will come with every promotion discussion, transfer, etc.

It's quite rare for anything good to come of doubling down, for the employee at least.

I had exactly the same revelation during a protracted encounter I had at $NAME_WITHHELD - huge admired company - after working there for several years, and coming into an ethical and legal conflict against my division director.

It was made abundantly clear that the goals of HR do not align with our notions of HR being champions for the workers.

I appreciate this sounds blindingly obvious and almost forehead slapping to anyone who hasn't been on the sharp end of this, but let me assure you that when you are on the sharp end, this will be driven home with fervour.

Agreed - been in a similar-sounding situation (nothing as big as the Amazon story).

We are referred to a 'Resources' for a reason.

$NAME_WITHHELD is apparently (edit: Not) Apple. Someone else here has figured it out and is now hellbanned.

Erm, I hope I haven't been hell banned if this refers to me. I have never worked for Apple, nor was I talking about them, in my post.

Oops, sorry I thought you were the founder of Nest. So ThrowawayPhilea was hellbanned for The "Philea is more important" part ? Harsh

Not banned. Same situation as https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8597615.

Heh - if only I was smart enough to be the founder of nest. :-)

Replying to let you know it's not you.

Thank you!

You know, I was sad that the most upvoted link today was this story and not the awesome picture sent by the comet probe. Do people here really think this is today's most significant event ? And I was thinking that the same story about $NAME_ALSO_WITHHELD instead of Amazon would never have made it to the front page.

So I was curious if $NAME_WITHHELD and $NAME_ALSO_WITHHELD was the same company and looked into it. Took me one minute and apparently it was...

I have mixed feelings on this; on the one hand this is indeed a 'gossip news site' flavour article, and the reactions of the commenters in this thread largely follow the regular human response of 'burn the witch'. I'm not interested in the minutia of the case, nor am I interested in damning the manager lady who is not having her just day in court right now.

However, I do believe this is somewhat Hacker News worthy in that it serves as a cautionary tale. As someone who has been in the industry for 20 years, it's weird to think of myself as an old-timer who has been around the block, but a significant demographic of HN readership are very young and inexperienced graduates; it likely serves them well to be aware of these complex organizational issues and how they sometimes manifest.

The landing was the significant event, not the first photo.

The landing is also available on a vastly larger number of news sources, which dilutes the amount of focus it gets on any particular site. Upvotes are a proxy for the number of people paying attention to the story through HN, not the number of people paying attention that are on HN.

Don't worry, this story has an hour head-start. The photo will probably end up with more upvotes.

Well, I think it's more important to point out that our culture has devolved into something that endorses and promotes backstabbing mobs of cowards conspiring against anyone who displays ethical behaviour. Landing on a comet isn't going to save mankind from anything. And everyone has heard about the comet landing already ffs I've had enough of it.

> And everyone has heard about the comet landing already ffs I've had enough of it.

So you basically come here for the politics and get bored of the landing a probe on a comet kinds of things?

There's nothing wrong with that.

>"HR is not your friend. HR is not there to protect you and your career."


Being a friend, advocate and protector is the role of a professional union.

Unfortunately, the labor in tech seems convinced that each is better off on his or her own despite being up against a cartel of behemoths [1].

1: http://pando.com/2014/03/22/revealed-apple-and-googles-wage-...

This is all true. But what I haven't seen in this thread is advice on what employees should do, instead of going to HR.

My experience is that it can be invaluable to make personal connections with one or more management-type folks outside of your team. This is sometimes called a "mentor," although I think that term is pretty cliche at this point, and puts too much pressure on the relationship.

The point is to have someone a bit more versed in the internal politics, with whom you can have informal conversations before doing anything dramatic--like going to HR or emailing your boss's boss's boss.

They can help you predict the likely outcomes of those actions. And they might also be able to end-run around the "bad layer" in your management. For example, they might be able to go to another senior person and informally pass along the word that a key issue is not being addressed...without naming names.

How to build those relationships? Take people out to lunch or coffee. Have a conversation. Ask them how they got to where they are, what they wish they'd known earlier, etc. Often you can figure out pretty quickly whether you get along with them or not.

So true. And the essence of networking

It's not even that HR is allied with the company as such. They are their own little political unit, and sometimes those politics lead to situations that benefit no one at all other than HR themselves.

As a manager, I'm frequently helping the personnel on my team work to overcome the barriers that HR erects in their way. HR seems to just have an innate love for policies, the more the better. Even when those policies do nothing to protect the company or the employee, and actively interfere with our efficiency, HR will stick to them. I think it's just because having to back off a silly policy makes the other policies appear weaker.

So I see that employment law in the USA makes HR specialists important in a company of any size, but that doesn't mean that they very much improve things beyond that domain.

BINGO how do you think stack ranking and PRP got push so had so some hr director can get a bonus never mind you destroy morale and force all your good people out.

HR doesn't even have a useful offensive role in most companies. In theory they should identify staffing requirements, find great people, create competitive benefits packages to attract them, and run snappy business processes to get them in the door.

Usually they wind up mangling the staffing requirements provided by the managers, farming applicant discovery out to headhunters, cutting corners on benefits to boost profits, and put new hires and their target teams through byzantine processes.

You're totally right. I thought HR was at minimum a neutral party - at Amazon your HR rep is called your "HR Business Partner". That's complete baloney. She was basically there to do whatever my manager and the VP wanted her to do. Things I told her in confidence (like having two transfer opportunities) were immediately relayed to my manager. It is such a betrayal of trust. I would hope that other HR departments in other companies are different but I think that's overly optimistic.

>>>"HR is not your friend. HR is not there to protect you and your career. HR is there to protect the company AGAINST you."

Golden words and everyone especially new joinees need to understand.

> Looks like Kivin was surprised when HR told his manager that he requested to be transferred. His manager then used this information against him, by putting him into a 'performance improvement program' which blocks transfers to any other group for some period of time.

I learned this one the hard way myself. The change wasn't motivated by any grief or frustration, I was simply looking for career growth since my role wasn't offering me any new opportunities. Instead of what I thought would happen, my boss identifying I could offer the company more in that new role, he was offended I'd ask to change teams and retaliated. I ultimately left the organization soon after because he had made it an absolute nightmare.

> HR is not your friend. HR is not there to protect you and your career. HR is there to protect the company AGAINST you.

This was very shocking to me to realize early on in my career, I'd always heard that HR was on my team. I quickly learned that they're just there to keep the assembly line happy and functioning.

As in many things in life, the people and organizations that are actually on your team are perfectly obvious, and they never feel the need to tell anybody how on your team they are.

The only people who feel the need to tell you how on your team they are would be the ones that are not on your team at all, and expect to get some kind of benefit for the people whose team they are actually on by convincing you otherwise. I.E. by screwing you over.

I'm surprised that HR was immediately on the manager's side. I'd expect HR to protect/defend management that is above their work group, they write the checks after all. However, there is no incentive to protect anyone on the same level or below their reporting manager.

HR exists to defend against litigation and conspiring with Kivin's manager worked directly against that purpose. Their actions resulted in a fat public lawsuit where winning won't matter. The findings related to the ethics of Amazon's ad platform are damning, their corporate customers would love to recoup misappropriated advertising dollars with their army of attorneys on retainer.

It's long standing Amazon policy to engage in "fat public lawsuits" over employment. So while we might argue the wisdom of that, HR not worrying about that prospect is in alignment with the higher levels of management.

HR is there to protect the company from all staff - yes you but also your manager and his/her ignorance of employment law.

Maybe it's just a European thing but I've seen more HR professionals despair at the actions of managers than staff. Yes, they may help him/her get rid of you but what they're really terrified of is his ill advised actions which open the company up to a massive liability.

> Maybe it's just a European thing but I've seen more HR professionals despair at the actions of managers than staff.

Its a power-balance thing. Managers have more power vis-a-vis HR staff than line staff do, thus are more likely to be able to get away with persisting in things that HR staff doesn't like. So, more likely a source of HR staff "despair".

Employees -- unless backed by a manager -- are more likely to meekly acquiesce.

I think what Tyrannosaurs meant is that, because of stronger employee protection, a rash manager in europe can very easily open the company to huge liabilities. One of the primary HR jobs (if not the primary one) is to avoid the company being liable. The prospect of facing a labor board and finding the company be 100% at fault is likely to make them despair.

On the other hand, when speaking about US/EU differences, I don't think many EU countries have laws to grant enormous $$$ in punitive damages.

Germany certainly hasn't - when you win, you typically get your legal fees and damages (as in: what the court decided you _actually_ lost). So there isn't _that_ much of a liability - the main concern for companies is probably that they'll have to stop mistreating their other employees, too.

OTOH, there's a separate branch of jurisdiction especially for employment related issues which is generally employee friendly and for the employee a lawsuit is free and doesn't require legal representation on the lowest level.


My personal view from my interactions with HR (as a manager looking at redundancy, poor performance, sickness) is that they're best viewed as the Employment Law team.

This is a constant sentiment I hear over and over. If there is a company that wishes to change this situation they would probably have to take the question of "ethics" completely out of HR's hands and into it's own department that provides obligations and confidentiality promises to employees (that can be enforceable to whatever extent is possible).

Many companies do have this, sometimes called an ombudsman.

Hell, we do this and my company has annual revenue under $1MM for 2014 and just around $1MM for 2015. It's ridiculous that this doesn't exist for larger companies; we pay basically NOTHING to have this on retainer for external clients and internal processes. We've never used it. but I am so happy it's there.

Wait, how do you already know what your revenue numbers for 2015 will be?

I'm guessing secure subscription contracts of some sort?

Yeah. And just a 90% confidence interval projection basically.

How's this for an idea: by law, many/all HR duties in corporations larger than X, must be conducted by independent, outside firms hired by the original corporation. They would be like tax auditor firms or credit card security auditors, but more involved.

This way, HR would more likely be incentivized to work for both employee and employer (because they are audited themselves), except in extreme corrupt cases. HR practice would also become a lot better, as it became more competitive and profitable. People with more knowledge of labor law and history would thrive. Yes, there would still be stooges working in these outside HR firms, but at least they would stooge for the real laws in place rather than corporate policies.

People who know who their real customers are, serve their customers. I don't know how effective it would be in the end.

Also the cases you cite, they're go-between firms where the power relationship is obvious. Big government tells smaller corp to do x, or big credit card firm tells smaller firm to do y. For employee's, the power relationship isn't there unless you have unions, and union organizations would be ones you would go to in these cases.

I know more than a few people that leave when the company spins up an hr group...

HR is a purely political entity within most companies.

I think this depends where you work. I've been at places where they were so scared you would sue them for something, that it was near impossible to get fired. HR would make it extremely difficult for managers to put people on a performance improvement plans. However, this was in California where it may be different than other companies. I've even heard managers complain that HR was not on their side when they wanted to fire a employee that was terrible.

This just can't be emphasized enough. My view is that this view should be expanded to include most of management. They are in a different social class, because they are employees the company values more than the employees who do the work of the company (e.g. produce products, maintain software, whatever). HR is valued more for all the reasons listed. Management serve a similar purpose, but in a more front-line kind of way, and also are guardians of the only resource that matters in a company (direct and indirect expenses).

I suppose it makes me a cynical person but my view is that unless I have a pre-existing personal relationship, I assume that anybody in management views their employees as tools to use for their own political ambitions within the company, whether they need a scapegoat to cover their own incompetence or a proxy to claim glory and credit for jobs well done.

Seen this repeatedly in multiple corporate settings. The sooner you learn it, the better you may fare. (Including sometimes making decisions to "get out", preemptively.)

Once you understand it, it can also help explain some of the staffing and personalities you will encounter in HR departments.

P.S. I'll add that, in my experience, this extends to most performance reviews. Their primary function is to reenforce top-down policy and decisions. They are not really, primarily, about assessing you and planning (real) improvements. They are about laying the paperwork for whatever Management decides.

Perhaps this sounds overly cynical. And for favored employees, these processes may align more with their own interests. Even then, favored one year may not extend to the next year.

I learned this lesson the hard way. I worked for a company that had a huge culture problem. I made the mistake of telling the truth to HR about it, and suddenly I started going from beyond excellent performance reviews to strangely poor performance reviews about my "personality" without any explanation (and even resistance when I tried to ask about it). They were slowly documenting enough negative evidence to let me go. Unfortunately New York is an "at-will" state, so I could never file a wrongful termination suit. The power is one-sided.

It would be in the interest of the company to catch problems as early as possible and difuse the situation. Seems that Amazon has failed on multiple levels to understand the situation.

I don't know how big of a "secret" it actually is -- I think it's just that most people make assumptions about what HR does and why they exist. It's less that the information is hidden and more that people just don't bother looking for it.

My wife is an attorney who works in HR and labor relations. HR existing to protect the company was one of the first things she learned in either an HR class or employment law class.

It's a "secret" because the manuals that HR produces contain explicit or implicit statements to the effect that HR is there to help the employee with things like benefits and conflicts with other employees or managers. Most people aren't ever caught up in a tangle in which HR's true purpose was exposed to them, so HR gets away with these little lies and maintain the illusion that they're there to help employees.

I can't upvote you enough. Nothing cynical but remember the HR is paid by the company, not by you.

Excellent comment. HR are the people who refer to us humans as "resources" (read: to be exploited), enough said.

of course not, that would be the worker's council and the union.

you silly Americans :)

HR employees can be fired, hence are under pressure, hence are on the side of the company. Works council members in developed nations are protected, cannot be fired on a whim and get fully paid while fighting for you.

As a European working in the US it feels like time travel when it comes to work, health, banking. Just had a discussion about why Google Health has failed - while Austrian citizens already enjoy an electronic health record, tracking their medication across doctors.

So many patriots here will defend the US as the greatest country, no matter what - but actively oppose the very fabric of this nation, the government, with its rules and regulations to protect the people. Very hard to wrap my head around this.

The government is not 'the very fabric of this nation'.

You know the government is supposed to be representatives of the people, right? Of the people for the people. I'm worrying for the US and the world, because Americans are so anti government. Peoples rights aren't being respected.

The government is supposed to be of the people, and for the people. The government should be subservient to the people, not the other way around (at one point in history, a novel concept).

The concept of the "American people" predates the current American government. It will survive the current American government (plenty of developed or developing countries have had multiple governments in the past century, without interrupting the notion of that country as a group of people. In the more distant past, consider France. France remained a country of the French, despite several dramatic changes in the nature of French government in the past 300 years). The people are the "fabric of America", not the government that the people have created. That government is just an imperfect tool used by the people.

That's the idea anyway.

My thoughts exactly.

Speaking as an anti-government American, I'm against the current form of American government because it has strayed so far from the limited government principles on which this country was founded. It's literally impossible for a government this large to be representative.

Oh you mean the Articles of Confederation which were so poorly thought it the country was imploding after 10 years so badly that they had to start from scratch and write a whole new document called the constitution to fix the mess of constant rebellions?

Is that the founding principles you mean? Because George Washington had nothing good to say about them after having tried them during his terms in office.

Not saying that I agree with GP, but the US was much less centralized during the early days of the Constitution than it is today. Part of that is practical - fast communication makes it easier to centralize.

But over many years through a combination of Supreme Court decisions, legislation, and executive decisions, authority has become more concentrated in the hands of the Federal government than in the state/local government, or left to the individual.

That's not to say that it's all bad - civil rights, for example was a hugely important movement only made possible by moving some power away from the states. But to deny that it has happened isn't right either.

That's an oddly aggressive response.

No, I was not referring to the Articles of Confederation. I was instead referring to the system of limited government defined by the Constitution.

You mean the tyrannical power grabbing centralized monstrosity all real Americans hated? Because that's what the Constitution was to the real Americans who founded this country and not the jack boot licking, spineless cowards who could look true freedom in the eye and made the federal government the hydra that it is today.

(the tone of this post has been set by the federalist and anti-federalist pamphlets that lead up to the Constitutional convention, some words have been changed for clarity)

>while Austrian citizens already enjoy an electronic health record, tracking their medication across doctors.

And if you understand why Austrian citizens' tracking doesn't extend across all of the EU, maybe you'll also understand why it doesn't happen across the US.

What feels like time travel is going to Europe and having to use cash everywhere in Portugal because cards are so rarely accepted outside of big chains. Felt very backwards.

So governments are to be rejected while profile-building credit card companies are something to aspire to?

While CC companies have no means to jail you, locking down your credit card access in a mostly cash-less world can be a real pain - and unlike governments, they have no (somewhat) independent appeals process.

Borders between states are hardly the same as borders between countries, and Portugal is not representative of Europe. Europe is a region with multiple cultures, languages, countries, and governments.

Well that's the point that he/she is trying to make isn't it? States in the US are more like to countries within the EU. That's in part why I think a lot of people from the US refer to 'Europe' as a cohesive entity, because in many ways it is. Different states and different countries are at different levels of progress.

States in the US =/= Countries within the EU. Europe is really not a cohesive entity. Different languages, different history (stretching back a thousand+ years), completely different value systems, cultures, etc.

Trying to insinuate that the degree of differentiation between states is the same as between Europe countries is utter absurdity. Clearly, trying to track healthcare across different governments with different languages and different cultures is much harder than trying to track healthcare across different states with the same language, the same national government, and a very similar culture.

Culture and that other stuff you mention are important, but so is size and distance. In the same way that someone who moved from Austria to Scotland would be tolerant of differences in official services, so is someone who moves from Seattle to Orlando.

At least you can use chip&pin :)

because rules and regulations are links in the chains that bind you. rules and regulations created the corporations, rules and regulations tax you, rules and regulations throw you in jail for imbibing in herbs...

Worker Unions? You mean the mob?

The US has a proud history of leveraging criminals for discrediting unions. And the legacy in popular culture is that unions lead to organized crime. Good luck in your reciding, sorry "recovering", economy.

Do you eat meat? 'cause a number of the rendering plants that produce animal feed are still mob owned.


"Report to the President and the Attorney General" https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/102922NCJRS.pdf "Organized Crime and the Meat Industry: A Study in Competition "



It was partially sarcastic, partially not. In 2014, its about as relevant as complaining about links between the Mafia & Unions. They used to be connected in places but it was relatively small scale (e.g. local) and not on the scale people like the parent claimed.

fair enough. thanks for the reply!

You are the link. You eat mob owned meat.

This is correct advice in some situations - and I have had this experience, but certainly not universally.

I know people that say that about their IT departments. Or legal. Or marketing. Sales.

I know a lot of very high performing HR teams. The best growth companies in SF/SV have amazing HR teams. They're responsible for a whole lot more than your 401k.

If you're in an org where X is not your friend - then you're probably in a large, politicized organization. Best advice is to either accept that and adapt, or get out and find somewhere that fits your ethos.

How does one recognize amazing HR teams? Please give some specifics on what they are responsible for beyond the 401K.

Not entirely sure why I got downvoted. I guess people don't like HR teams.

A great HR team?

Showing up on your first day and having everything you need. A laptop that does what it needs, a pass, someone to induct you, materials that get you started. Making you feel welcome. Being productive and part of the team. Sure, your manager and team are part of that, but HR facilities this (In most cases, teams are woeful at doing this).

A great office environment. Making sure people have the right skills. And not just technical - managerial skills and support. Encouraging teams and cross-functional discussion.

Coaching hiring managers on the best ways to interview. Making sure people are greeted properly. Interviews are kept. Presenting an employee brand that makes people want to work at the company.

Having a performance review system that doesn't suck and gives people the feedback they need to get better. Sure, people hate then, but people also crave feedback.

An office environment that suits the culture and makes people productive. Making sure people are getting the emotional support they need.

Ever had a co-worker who's depressed, suicidal? Someone that has committed suicide. Or a death in the company? Someone that has a family tragedy? Organizing counseling for the team? HR steps up. It's easy to brush over these things until they happen. You appreciate a professional when it does.

Ever needed someone walked off the premises because they are threatening? Sexual harassment? Health and safety violations. Easy to say, meh, these aren't important – but, no, they are. Blocked fire exits kill people. Toxic cultures sink companies.

.. And yes. Making sure people get paid. That the health insurance works.

There are plenty of examples where this doesn't work. There are plenty of sucky implementations. Performance reviews generally suck. But I can assure that the growth tech companies wanting to kick goals are getting these things right.

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