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Should We Worry That a Manager Pals Around With HR Staff?

We have a manager with considerable authority who regularly pals around with a member of my human resources staff. It is common knowledge that they are good friends. I would like to find out what this situation could possibly do in terms of employee perception and effective management. I don't have any evidence that there have been any compromises, but should I, as HR supervisor, be worried about possible leaks of confidential data and possible negative employee perception? How should I handle this delicate situation—if it needs to be handled at all?
April 6, 2011
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Related Topics: Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Corporate Culture, Dear Workforce, Legal
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Dear Worrywart:

Your question is a good one—right at the heart of human resources and what the various constituencies look to your team for.

Among other things, managers have a right to expect that their HR staff provides them with timely, well-reasoned, unbiased counsel. On a daily basis, your staff is called upon to be umpires who call balls and strikes exactly how they see them, not how they might like them to be. Managers also count on your staff to reliably help them keep a finger on the pulse of their organization, a task that requires the confidence of the workforce. In a similar vein, the general employee population looks to your team as honest brokers of policy and employment matters, and people who will keep confidences.

HR's ability to effectively perform those roles is materially impaired by either the real existence or appearance of a relationship that is compromised by partiality.

Does that mean that HR professionals can't be friends with employees (management or otherwise) within their sphere of influence? No, of course not. It does mean, though, that HR professionals should be ever mindful to avoid both the existence and the appearance of compromising behavior, and know where the boundaries are. As the title implies, it also means that they really must be a "professional." In particular, they must take pains to ensure that their dealings with friends, and for that matter, those with whom they have a much cooler relationship, are consistently aboveboard and evenhanded.

Were I in your shoes, I would neither attempt to chill the relationship nor ask either of the parties to put it in the closet. And I wouldn't worry unduly about it, absent any signs of compromised behavior. I would, however have a chat with either the involved HR rep, or perhaps my entire staff to remind them of the need to be, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion at all times. If they need more specific direction than that, they might be on the wrong bus.

SOURCE: Bill Catlette, Contented Cows, Memphis, Tennessee

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The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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