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posted: 3/3/2013 7:39 AM

Work Advice: Let's talk about stress, baby

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Q: I work for a small nonprofit. Our human resources manager eats lunch fairly often with a regular group of employees -- to the point where other people entering the lunchroom have felt unwelcome -- and has maintained a close friendship during and after work with another manager. Normally, I don't care who's friends with whom. However, several of the regulars who eat lunch with the HR manager have been promoted, and recently an employee who reported to HR's manager friend was let go. Should HR be forming friendships with employees?

A: HR professionals, in my limited experience, are human, and most humans like having friends. The snag is that your HR manager's friendships seem to be creating a culture -- or at least the appearance -- of favoritism.

"Naturally, HR wants to have friends at work," says Deb Keary, vice president of human resources for the Society for Human Resource Management. "But I would never eat with the same people every day; I would never want to create a clique." And with those work friends, says Keary, "it's all about boundary-setting" and keeping confidential information off-limits.

But let me challenge your assumptions about how much influence HR professionals have. Although they are in charge of "setting up the structure" for and may be consulted on personnel actions, says Keary, they don't generally decide who gets bumped or dumped. Call me a naif, but it's possible your co-workers earned their promotions and pink slip all on their own.

Nevertheless, if workers don't feel they have equal access to the HR department, that's bad for morale and thus bad for the company. You could reasonably express this concern to your boss, who could take it up -- naming no names -- with the HR manager's boss. Just focus on the general welfare, not on details of who's sharing fries with whom.

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If it ducks like a quack. . . . Readers, including legions of annoyed registered nurses, caught me practicing bad medicine in my response to the "RN manager" who was not an RN. Although the letter writer's job did not involve patient care, she was worried about her lack of a license. I blithely told her not to fret, because the employer had hired her knowing she was not an RN.

But knowledgeable readers have informed me that many states prohibit labeling workers RNs if they have not earned the license -- regardless of the job. I still believe the letter writer is not at fault, but that wouldn't protect her legally. I'd now advise her to lobby for a new title.

Thanks, and heartfelt apologies to the RNs I offended. I'm hanging up the lab coat.

Karla L. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office.

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