HR Gets Bad Press

So, what do you do? I work in HR. Oh.

Cue the eye roll and the humorous comments like ‘so how many people have you sacked this week?’   I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years seeing a similar response from people when I say what I do.

Most often, this is shaped by people not having a positive experience of HR in their own places of work. But why does HR get such a bad press, and is it deserved?

Here are the principal reasons I believe why HR attracts such negative stereotypes.

  1. People are not sure who or what HR is there for

HR often professes to be the voice of the employee, whilst simultaneously doing the bidding of senior management.  Often these tensions are contradictory and can lead to crises of conscience for those doing HR work.  Employees can often see HR as a mouthpiece for senior management and therefore not trusted to openly confide in.

  1. Some people work in HR without fundamental people skills

It’s been infuriating to see people representing HR, who lack basic decency, and emotional intelligence in sensitive situations.

There are, without doubt, vast numbers of people working in HR with superb people skills.  They do unbelievable work and deliver amazing outcomes, often in difficult circumstances.  In a 20-year+ HR career, I’ve also experienced many people working in HR who, shall we say, lack the core people skills that most observers feel should be essential for doing such work.  It’s been infuriating to see people representing HR, who lack basic decency, and emotional intelligence in sensitive situations.  I know all professions will suffer similar issues, but I’m always puzzled at how such people manoeuvre their way into HR roles without the basic humanity and approach to people. It is frustrating how much damage these incidents do to the reputation of HR as a profession.

  1. HR is reactive, rather than proactive.

So often, HR gets involved at the point of relationships breaking down or some other form of dispute.  Often this means adherence to formal procedures, whether it’s performance, discipline, grievance, or health capability.  These procedures, often overseen by an HR ‘gatekeeper’, are stressful as they are so formal.  Sometimes they become very lengthy and complex.  It’s difficult to come away with a positive experience of such procedures.  Often the first time an employee will encounter someone within the HR team is during a formal procedure when they are under a lot of pressure.

  1. HR is so process driven

One of the biggest frustrations from managers is HR related paperwork.  HR IT platforms are improving the situation, but nonetheless the internal compliance and control model requires managers to complete a multitude of forms and people-related processes on an ongoing basis including [this list is by no means exhaustive]

  1. Often lengthy and cumbersome annual appraisal documents
  2. Supervision one to one document completion
  3. KPI evaluation and metrics analysis
  4. Return to work interviews after absences
  5. Sickness capability review meetings [sometimes triggered by certain thresholds of days being taken off]
  6. Holiday authorisation forms
  7. Performance Improvement Plans
  8. Shortlisting and interview assessment forms
  9. Pay and benefit evaluation forms
  10. Exit interview documentation
  11. Training and development authorisation forms
  12. Annual staff survey completion

I don’t believe safety is created by paperwork it’s created by open, honest conversations within a culture of care.

Despite generating a huge amount of bureaucracy and process, there is often a void when it comes to meaningful actions as a result of this.  I’ve often wondered if we just did away with all the paperwork and process, and simply went back to basic human conversations and interactions at the team level, what the overall result would be?  As a society, we create systems to prove and disprove things with the illusion this is keeping the organisation safe.  I don’t believe safety is created by paperwork it’s created by open, honest conversations within a culture of care.  It is created within an environment of psychological safety, and not fear.  Creating such environments should be a major focus for leaders, and HR in my view.

  1. HR is often associated with dismissal and difficult decisions

Whether it is due to conduct, capability, redundancy, or some other reason, when it gets to a point of parting company, HR is often a key stakeholder.  How these sensitive and challenging conversations are handled can have a major impact on a whole team or even organisation.  HR can have an influential role in how such situations are resolved.  If the HR input lacks compassion or thoughtfulness, it can reinforce any negative stereotypes further.

I believe HR needs to change in fundamental ways to be of value in the modern world.  It will be the deeds of those working in HR, which will make the major difference in shaping the perception of the wider profession.

I don’t suspect the eye rolls and comments will stop anytime soon, it’s something I’ve become used to over the years.  I think by doing HR in a true people-centred and humanistic way, we can all start to create some small ripples in our own organisations.

Being consistent over time creates even wider-ranging ripples and can then start to become a truly powerful movement for change.  There are enough amazing people within the profession to make this happen.  If we can attract more brilliant people with high emotional intelligence into our profession, we’ll turn those ripples into a tidal wave.


Kevin Miller
Kevin Miller
My 'Why' is to inspire a movement towards truly people-centred organizations. Organizations which see the person first and the employee second. A Coach, facilitator, and catalyst for positive change, I thrive on the challenge of making the world of work better and more humanized for people in organizations. I love networking and collaborating to share fresh ideas, insights and to learn. I have an in-depth knowledge and practical 'hands-on' experience of leading HR and Organizational Development projects. I am a visionary who rethinks what is possible when it comes to HR, leadership and the future of work, igniting positive change in others. Never forgetting the real reason behind my work, I love spending time with my wife Kelly and my children who are the centre of my world and the reason behind my 'Why'.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. Kevin – My experience with HR was that 95%+ of the time the department represented the interests of “management.” It was there to protect the organization rather than to serve staff. The annual performance review is a case in point. Writing performance down protects the organization against lawsuits, but does little to improve performance. Most managers, I suspect, still don’t engage in meaningful conversations about performance because those conversations would likely be tough – and who relishes a tough conversation? I applaud whatever changes you can make happen.