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IDear Workforce-I Should HR Have Friendships With Employees

Do what you can to foster strong working relationships, beginning perhaps with brown-bag lunches. Off-duty friendships can work, but proceed with caution.
October 22, 2000
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Dear Workforce
Dear Workforce:

As a newly minted HR professional, I am unsure what is expected of meregarding office relationships. On once hand, I need to be friendly andapproachable in an effort to gain employees trust and confidence. On the otherhand, I don’t want to encourage relationships, nor do I feel free to buildoffice friendships at the risk of appearing partial to employees that I"like." What to do?

-- Alesia Magee Lewis, human resources manager

A Dear Alesia:

First, on working relationships: Working relationships -- in particularwithin HR -- are often complex. We must view our jobs as a pendulum, balancingbetween the needs of our managers and employees. Building relationships iscrucial for building our credibility. But how do we establish thoserelationships in the most professional context?

One tactic that has worked well is having HR conduct brown-bag seminars.Perhaps a stress-management session or "Ask HR" is a good way to getto know your employee base while still acting in a professional role. This willgive you an opportunity to talk with people in a non-threatening environment,while establishing yourself as a trusted resource.

Another method is to attend staff meetings of the groups you support on aregular basis. You will be viewed as a member of the team and will buildcredibility by being a consistent player in their work life. Build a reputationfor "always having your door open." Make it known that you areavailable to talk with employees when they need you. You may want to send out ane-mail highlighting your responsibilities; this will assist your employees inunderstanding that you are a resource for them.

Now, on to off-duty relationships: Being an HR professional, you arenever really "off-duty," as you are acting as an agent of yourorganization, both inside and outside of the office. Part of being an HRprofessional is setting a positive example of your organization’s policies andprocedures.

This does not mean that you should never socialize with other employees, asthis can be a powerful way to build rapport throughout the company. You should,however, limit your socializing to settings that you feel comfortable beingassociated with. And you should also be conscious of who you are socializing orbuilding relationships with, and make sure that if doing so, your time isequally distributed between different employee groups.

Building friendships is a natural occurrence, and as you get to know morepeople throughout the organization, you will begin to want to build friendshipswith those that you have common interests with. There is definitely a fuzzy linewith HR professionals, since once you begin to learn about an employee, itbecomes very difficult to remain objective.

As it is your responsibility to ensure that company policies are held inaccordance, the ability to do so with "friends" as opposed to fellowemployees becomes extremely difficult. Your job will remain easier if you do notbecome personal friends with employees, although this is sometimes not easy toveer away from. It is important, that if these relationships are built, theyremain separate from work and do not jeopardize your role in maintainingadherence to company policies from all employees.

Always use the rule of thumb that employees will notice what you say and do,usually with more scrutiny than employees not in HR. Creating professionalrelationships with others in your organization is important in building rapportand trust with employees. It is more important, however, how you build theserelationships. Remaining aware of your actions and continuously setting a goodexample for other employees should be at the forefront of how you buildrelationships.

SOURCE: Benchmark HR, Salem, New Hampshire.

E-mail your Dear Workforce questions to Online Editor Todd Raphael at,along with your name, title, organization and location. Unless you stateotherwise, your identifying information may be used on andin Workforce magazine. We can’t guarantee we’ll be able to answerevery question.


 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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