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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When it comes to saving money, HR departments educate themselves rather well in regards to the law.
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.
Also, this is why labor still organizes in the US, even if organization is down substantially over what it used to be.
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.
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.
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.
It turned out, as it often does, to be a blessing. And it absolutely taught me the role of HR.
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)
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.
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.
I agree with your statement but I do not think it disagrees with mine. Perhaps I should have said "for a job in HR".
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!
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.
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.
EDIT: do want to add a hostile work environment can wear down any mentally robust person.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
You're really going to have to qualify that somehow. It can't possibly be close to true in that form.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are referred to a 'Resources' for a reason.
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...
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 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.
So you basically come here for the politics and get bored of the landing a probe on a comet kinds of things?
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 .
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.
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.
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.
Golden words and everyone especially new joinees need to understand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
HR is a purely political entity within most companies.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
No, I was not referring to the Articles of Confederation. I was instead referring to the system of limited government defined by the Constitution.
(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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.