Having friends in HR is fine, but HR is not your friend

Having friends in HR is fine, but HR is not your friend
Photo by Dylan Gillis / Unsplash

After the wave of layoffs at Meta (previously known as Facebook) in November of 2022, I recall messages in the Facebook group for former employees discussing how to handle elements of the redundancy process, like if it was possible to max out retirement saving contributions, or spending gym benefits whilst on garden leave, and a common response was to suggest asking Human Resources (HR) or to mention something that HR had told them. And it reminded me how much trust people place in good HR teams. But people tend to mix up the notion that because they have friends who work in the HR team, that the HR team are their friends, and they forget that HR may not always have your best interests at heart.

HR can definitely be helpful

This isn’t to say HR are your enemy or anything. In fact, a good HR partner can be an important resource, especially for a people manager. They can act as a sounding board to ensure you’re treating people fairly and not acting with an unconscious bias. In situations with under-performing team members, they can advise you on what resources are available to help your struggling report, be they career development training, mental health services and more. But it’s also important to remember that HR aren’t paid to be an advocate for employees, be they your reports, or indeed yourself.

Who HR are there to support

HR exist to represent the interests of the company and those interests always have a degree of divergence with employees. Sometimes the divergence is small and this is the ideal, but frequently the divergence is large, and the redundancies we’ve been seeing in the tech industry is a prime example of that.

It’s easy to look at the redundancy packages being offered by the likes of Meta, Stripe or more recently Salesforce and think “oh that’s so generous, they’re really looking after their employees”. That’s the natural thing to do, we all want to expect the best of others and I don’t mean to minimise how helpful these packages are to help people land on their feet, but to suggest they’re selfless on the part of the company is perhaps a bit much.

It’s all risk mitigation

It is almost certain that a calculation has been made as to what is the smallest amount of money they can spend without suffering some kind of consequences, be it brand reputation, or legal action, then present that as a generous offer to employees. We should be grateful, we should jump at it, they would like us to think. But there might be a better deal to be had, particularly if you’re in a jurisdiction where you have a degree of legal protection, like the European Union. It pays to get informed about your rights, because your HR and Legal teams are not going to do that for you.

Just look at the case taken by a senior Twitter executive in Ireland, where not just accepting the company position led to settlement by Twitter on what you can only assume were more favourable terms. So don’t let them railroad you into a decision until you’ve had a chance to get some advice. Your employer definitely got legal advice on anything they put in front of you, why shouldn’t you do the same before signing?

HR aren’t evil, they’re just doing a job

This isn’t to say your HR team are bad people. They’re almost certainly not. They’re just doing their job. But don’t forget what their job is, and it’s not to protect your interests, so make sure you have someone at the table who is.