HR the bosses' friend

HR is not your friend

This is an American story from The Guardian but it may ring bells with many people who work for Australian institutes and organisations. Don’t trust HR with your career.

NK Beale knew something was wrong when her boss started sending her listings for other job openings.

“My manager was advising me to put in my notice,” said Beale, who is 40 and lives in Washington DC. “It was kind of weird, because we had a pretty good relationship, and I felt as though he was someone I could trust.”

There had been a shift in leadership at her tech company during a tumultuous time in the industry, with mass layoffs at Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Beale wondered if maybe her boss had encouraged her to put in her notice before they had a chance to officially lay her off so the company wouldn’t have to pay severance. The stress of it all started to affect her sleep and wellbeing.

When it got to be too much, Beale’s partner suggested that she speak to an old colleague named Cierra Gross, who founded an independent human resources consulting firm called Caged Bird HR.

What people don’t understand is that ultimately, HR works for the company

For $99, Gross and her staff listen to workers’ complaints about harassment, discrimination, or other job-related issues – stories those workers don’t feel comfortable sharing with their own employers’ HR representatives. Workers at Google, Netflix, Amazon, Uber and Meta have all used Caged Bird, according to Gross. She also says Caged Bird wrote the résumé for a candidate who ended up a state senator, and helped a woman who was about to quit her job negotiate a $30,000 severance.

People usually reach out to Caged Bird after experiencing discrimination or issues with compensation. Over 80% of its clients also say work has caused some sort of mental anguish, according to Gross.

survey published last month found that more than a third of 1,005 small-business workers in the US didn’t trust their HR departments. In a 2021 survey of 1,000 workers at UK organizations with more than 250 employees, 47% reported that they didn’t trust HR to help with conflict resolution. More than two in five respondents didn’t believe that the department would act impartially, with 43% saying they think senior staff members were favored in workplace disputes.

This wariness creates an opening for an independent HR service to act as a confidant, support system, lawyer (or at least someone who knows a lawyer), and whatever else a worker doesn’t feel they can find in-house.

Caged Bird’s clients must first fill out a form explaining who they are, where they work and what’s going wrong. A representative then calls to explain their rights as workers and to give their professional opinion on how things should be handled. Caged Bird then drafts documents that might be helpful to the client when the client speaks to their employer’s HR department, such as a letter of resignation, a script for a pay negotiation, or a letter that reports discrimination.

Caged Bird does not negotiate fair labor practices with a company on behalf of a collective workforce like unions do, and it rarely interacts directly with a company’s HR department.

“Sometimes we do allow a support person to come to meetings between a client and their employer, but then our involvement is very limited,” Gross said. “In those cases we’re not actually allowed to talk during meetings. Even when we ghostwrite documents for a client, we don’t send it directly to their employer. We give it to the client and it’s up to them to send it to whoever they need to.”

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