In My HR Opinion: HR Should Be Friends with Employees

Namely’s series, In My HR Opinion, brings you honest takes on the hottest HR topics and trends, straight from industry leaders.

We recently posed the question: Should HR be friends with employees? We opined on the topic, and we asked you to cast a vote. Well, the results are in, and  to our surprise, our survey showed an almost 50/50 split (with over 1,200 votes submitted!).

With an issue this divisive, it’s worth taking an even deeper look at both sides of the argument. While some professionals believe that HR friendships are not a good idea, this week, we spoke with Computronix Office Manager, Joel George and his HR Assistant, Melissa Patterson, who firmly believe that work should be a place where all employees feel a sense of friendship with their teammates. Here’s what they had to say:

Melissa Patterson: I should start by saying, Joel is my supervisor, so we’re the a living example of an workplace friendship. HR should be friends with employees because it builds a relationship of trust, and it recognizes employees as human beings rather than human doings. At Computronix, we value our employees for what they are, rather than what they do.

Joel George: I agree, our company has a mission to respect and serve each other and our clients, so we don’t have room or time for kingdoms to develop around the various departments. We’re all on the same team and moving in same direction.

We do understand and agree that HR has special responsibilities and jurisdictions, but in no way are we perceived, nor do we act, as superior or standoffish. It’s natural for our employees to come to HR and trust that they have full support and confidentiality. Sometimes we are involved in making hard decisions, but HR is not anyone to be feared or shunned in our culture. We’re just part of the team, all pulling in the same direction.

MP: Exactly, I know without a doubt that HR is in my corner and here to help me grow and better understand my role in the company. We build the culture and community in the organization.

JG: We work to protect this culture with careful hiring decisions. We’re careful not to only hire like-minded people, and we employ a range of people with varying opinions and beliefs. The leadership runs the company with clear values and expectations of how people treat each other—namely, with integrity and respect. Ours is a business built on long-term relationships, and these are built on trust and service. This kind of culture doesn’t allow selfish motives or personal agendas to dominate or drive the business.

MP: Culture fit is a very important part of our hiring process. The first interview we have with a candidate focuses almost entirely on culture, which we purposely do before any technical assessment. We know that character is the most important factor, and many technical skills can be taught along the way.

We believe our people know good people and “a friend of yours is a friend of mine.” At the same time, we have checks and balances in place that ensure we’re not just looking for one person’s friend but for everyone’s friend. With these hiring values, we have all become friends with each other.

In my role, I also sit at the front desk sometimes, which is a great hub for building my friendships with fellow employees. I’m able to stay in tune with the lives of coworkers. On Fridays, we keep a jar of candy out specifically to encourage employees to stop by and chat. We want to make sure that employees have the opportunity to connect with one another, and this has resulted in a family atmosphere rather than a stiff formal coworker environment.

JG: The way I look at it, if I would get together with a colleague from any department, it wouldn’t be any different if the person were in Business Development or HR. I don’t see job title as a barrier to friendship. That doesn’t make sense in our culture.

We have checks and balances in place to naturally discourage favoritism. Promotions are done with multiple inputs, and we use a measuring tool to ensure that the employee is ready for the next level. Of course there is some subjectivity to it as well, but our processes help us avoid favoritism.

MP: Even looking at the executives, I can see that they hold the high title, but that’s just their seat on the bus. They’re in the driver’s seat, but they’re still friends and colleagues with the entire team. They’re very humble people who don’t try to throw their weight around. It’s a company-wide understanding that each of us has a purpose to serve and inherent value.

JG: Our founder purposely structured Computronix to be different than the corporate environment. That’s the foundation of our philosophy for how we approach HR and value our people.

When someone has a new baby or is going through a hard time, we always send a gift, and I have visited colleagues in the hospital on multiple occasions. One of our core values is to help each other through hard times, and those small but meaningful gestures do make a difference.

On the flip side, we also have a lot of fun together Every year, we all do a fun activity together— we’ve done everything from escape rooms to scavenger hunts, and it’s a great way to build community.

In HR we have to walk the line between representing the company and the employees— we try to represent the employee best interests, but ultimately do have to abide by the company’s decision sometimes.

MP: But because HR is consistent in the way they communicate and treat everyone equally, I’m confident that when HR has to make a tough decision, they have thought through and done everything in their power to advocate for the employees.

JG: When there’s an absence of personal agendas or selfish motives, everyone is more inclined to help one another. Our culture is by no means perfect, but it’s tempered by the the checks and balances in place, which helps us sustain an environment conducive to friendships across the company.

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