In My HR Opinion: HR Should NOT 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!).

Last week, we chatted with two HR professionals about why they felt HR-employee friendships are crucial to a thriving company culture. This week, we take a look at the other side and hear from Ashley Crill, Director of Human Resources and Cayleigh Doyle, Human Resources Coordinator at Banker’s Toolbox. Here’s why they think HR should not be friends with employees:

Ashley Crill: Before tackling this topic, you need to have a clear idea of what you mean by “friends.” At Banker’s Toolbox we have such a close culture. All of our employees are very transparent and open, and we all eat lunch together every day. However, there is a fine line between being friendly and being a friend. Being on the senior leadership team, I’m very hesitant about being friends with employees, because I don’t want it to seem like I’m favoring some colleagues over others. In HR, you have to keep a level playing field and treat everyone equally.

I learned early on in my career that spending time with employees outside of work can put an HR rep in a difficult situation. Over drinks people naturally start asking questions that could push the limits on what you’re able to share. Hangouts after work hours can put you in an uncomfortable situation and make it seem like you’re sharing insider information with certain employees.

Cayleigh Doyle: There’s definitely a fine line between being friends and being friendly. I do believe in being welcoming so employees feel comfortable coming to me with questions or concerns. I try to make sure employees feel like HR is approachable, but you also have to be careful to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

AC: Exactly, we don’t want anyone thinking that favoritism gets one employee promoted over another. We sometimes see that happening if a manager is friends with employees outside of work. Even if the promotion is based entirely on merit, others may perceive it as favoritism. HR is a resource for all employees, and we care equally about each individual’s journey here. We want everyone to feel valued by HR and management.

Our hiring and onboarding practices enable checks and balances to prevent favoritism. We have a very selective hiring process where we outline exactly what is and is not the right fit for our culture. In interviews, we’re careful to ask behavioral questions to ensure anyone we hire is “Penguin-worthy.” Penguins are our company mascot because they cannot survive alone. They take turns rotating who is on the inside and outside of their huddle to make sure everyone keeps warm. We operate and win as a team, so we have to work together to see results.

CD: It can be challenging at times. One of our employees actually referred her daughter to an open role on the HR team, and I was a part of the interview process. I happened to know both the candidate and her mother from childhood, so I had to be very careful not to let any biases come into play during the interview. I wanted to be respectful of the referral, but also needed to prioritize the interests of the business over a personal relationship. It was uncomfortable because I did know her and worked with her mother, but I had to prioritize making the right hire for the open position.

AC: Our culture starts from the top down, and we have a CEO who connects with everyone on the team. With that mindset, we do have personal connections with each and every one of our employees, but there is a line. As a leader, especially in HR, we serve as role models and set the tone for management and employees alike. Every employee should be able to trust us and feel comfortable coming to talk to us.

ltimately, as an HR professional you have to go with your gut. You want to be viewed as a leader and avoid any behavior that will demean you or make someone lose their trust in you. Trust is hard to build, and it’s essential to maintaining a highly engaged workforce.

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