Has HR Become Your Organization’s ‘Manager Complaint Department’?

by Pat DiDomenico on May 16, 2014

“Can I talk to you about something …?”

That simple phrase by a manager at HR’s door will likely be followed by a five-minute gripe about an employee who is continually late to work … or squabbles with co-workers … or wastes too much time on Facebook.

HR people realize it’s part of their jobs to help supervisors deal with employee issues. But do some of your managers go overboard, reflexively dumping even the smallest of employee complaints onto HR?

These are the type of managers who don’t take the time to deal with issues that they can—and should—handle. They view HR as the all-purpose Complaint Department to solve all those messy human issues.

Advice: Stop doing your manager’s dirty work! Teach bosses who instinctively turn to HR to, instead, seek solutions on their own. Here are four tips to make this happen:

1. Stop suggesting solutions every time a manager pops into HR with a complaint about an employee. Instead, throw it back on them with a question, “How do YOU think you should handle it.” Explain to the manager that there are certain employee issues he or she should handle. Provide examples of problems the manager has brought to HR’s attention in the past.

2. Don’t minimize their complaints. Don’t give the impression that the manager’s past complaints are trivial or time-wasters for HR. Explain that you know the issues can be frustrating.

3. Get to the root of the problem. Determine whether there are issues behind the manager’s frequent dumping of complaints onto you (besides lack of time). Are there performance or behavior problems with employees? Does the manager lack the confidence to deal with the issues? Is the manager afraid to confront employees about even small problems … or simply too lazy?

4. Tell the manager to come armed with possible solutions before bringing issues to HR. Encourage bosses to implement their own solutions whenever possible. Managers who take more responsibility for handling employee issues will become more skilled at it, eventually reducing HR’s burden.

Important point: Make it clear to managers that you aren’t asking them to handle all problems themselves. Instead, you want them to understand which issues they should address and which to move up to HR.

Online resource  Teach supervisors how to respond to employee problems using our concise Memo to Managers training article, How to Coach Problem Employees: A 4-Step Plan for Managers.

Category: HR Soapbox