This is just my opinion, so you should probably take it with a grain of salt.
There’s a reason why some Human Resources (HR) departments are so large and premium salaries are paid to staff them… it’s cheaper than fighting lawsuits. HR is a component of a company’s legal strategy. HR departments are basically used in a manner to help offset the human cost of conducting business by managing fallout when conflicts occur and problems arise. HR departments generally want to be seen as employee advocates.
Human Resources acts similarly to an internal business political engine, used to placate employees. They don’t so much ‘solve’ conflicts or grievances as they water down the underlying causes of conflicts. Their ultimate responsibility is to protect the company, to insulate the company as much as possible from the employees. HR’s second tier of responsibility is to protect management. Lastly, and if it’s practical, comes the common employee. That’s the hierarchy. Now, there are times when this hierarchy isn’t strictly followed… like in cases of sexual harassment between the aforementioned tiers of responsibility. The common employee has an advantage over management. A lot of times, if the company can reasonably ascertain that sexual harassment has been committed, the offending management is fired and the common employee becomes ‘untouchable’ for a period of time… in hopes that the victim party does not seek monetary compensation, and the ugly incident hopefully blows over.
In larger, good paying companies, the attrition rates of employees are low. People tend to stay in their job category/position much longer and become sedentary in their jobs. This creates clusters of employees who develop a long work history with fellow employees. Petty grievances can percolate over years in these clusters. What has inadvertently been created, is a larger organism (clique) that is harder for Human Resources and management to control. These cliques know ‘where the dead bodies are buried’, so to speak. They then become problematic for HR to deal with on an individual level and group dynamics have to be taken into account.
I realize this post sounds like I’m very negative on the role of Human Resources, and that is somewhat a true assertion, but I do think the role of Human Resource departments… when applied appropriately, are an asset to both the company and to the employees. A few ideas that I think would minimize some of the most common conflicts that arise from employees and management are:
- Rotate employees out of their departments and switch their work assignments regularly. This should help prevent work cliques from forming. This has the added benefit of cross-training employees, allowing them to develop new skills and becoming more valuable to the company.
- Send out periodic employee assessment questionnaires, asking them to grade performance of their supervisors and managers. Typically, ‘performance reviews’ run down the chain-of-command… rarely do they go up the chain. Employees feel they have little input in the workplace. Assessment questionnaires could help change that well earned perception.