Why HR can’t wallow in employees’ problems

by Nicola Middlemiss07 Dec 2017
HR may have a reputation of being the organisational agony aunt but wallowing in your workers’ problems won’t do them – or the business – any good, says one international leadership coach.

“The HR profession is one that often attracts people who are nurturing, who are givers, who care about other people, who want to help other people and want to see other people grow,” says executive advisor Karen Gately.

“However, the shadow side of that nurturing character is not reserving enough for yourself, not maintaining your own health and wellbeing, because you’re investing too much in what other people need,” she continues.

According to Gately, HR professionals can easily wear themselves out if they become too embroiled in employee problems and are unable to separate themselves from the issue at hand.

“Sometimes we’re carrying too much because we take all the worries and the pain that people are experiencing home – but that mind-set can be very dangerous for you and for your energy levels and for your ability to maintain objectivity,” she tells HRD. “It can be incredibly draining when we wallow in other people’s issues.”

While Gately says empathy is undeniably important, she says HR professionals must be able to take a step back so they can see the biggest picture without becoming personally involved.

“It really does not help when HR is pandering to people’s emotions or fuelling or validating people’s self-pity or lack of personal accountability,” she says. “We need to be compassionate, we need to know when there are true hardships and when there are issues that are unfair or holding people back but we also need to recognise when people are not helping themselves and when the change needs to come from within.”

Gately recalls one incident in which she received an irate phone call from an executive who was trying to manage a particularly challenging team member.

“The employer was wallowing in self-pity and one of my team members in HR was having the ‘Oh, I know, you poor thing,’ conversation but that doesn’t help the leader to influence that person’s mind-set and clearly it doesn’t help the individual to be accountable for their own thinking,” says Gately. “So when HR wallows with a person, we can sometimes actually feed the issue and make it worse.”


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