This Q&A article is by Jonathan Rivett, who writes for the Sydney Morning Herald. I’ve edited it for length.
The relationship between HR and workers has always been vexed. I will write more on this later but if you have a serious issue, it’s usually proper protocol to raise it with HR but also consult a lawyer (without telling HR). Keep a journal and all correspondence (emails, notes, etc).
Question from a SMH reader: I went through a ghastly experience at work and went to our HR team. They said they would treat my experience with “the utmost seriousness”. It was clear they didn’t believe what I was saying and sided with the person who caused me grief. A friend said ‘HR departments aren’t there for employees. They’re there for the company’. I’ve finally had the issue resolved (HR did nothing). I don’t work for the company anymore. But my question is, is my friend’s advice true?”
Rivett’s answer: Your question is relevant to a lot of readers. I asked experts in the area and received different responses.
Professor Emmanuel Josserand is a Professor of Management at the University of Technology Sydney and says your friend’s advice is right. HR departments are there to primarily represent the boss’s interests.
“HR represents the interests of the organisation first. I don’t think there is any ambiguity about that,” he said.
Sarah McCann-Bartlett, Chief Executive and Managing Director of the Australian HR Institute, said, “HR works for both the employee and the organisation”. She said a good HR department should never capitulate to management.
She said it’s HR’s role to “deal with complaints impartially, and according to the legal framework, the organisation’s processes and, importantly, what is right or ethical.”
Human Resource Management lecturer Dr Martijn Boersma from the University of Technology Sydney said, “HR departments exist to make employees as productive as possible in the interest of the organisation… They treat employees as a means to an end.”