Your Office Coach: Human resources must balance roles

July 31, 2013 

Q: Shortly after joining this company, I became aware of numerous issues related to discrimination and harassment. As a human resources professional, I felt obligated to make management aware of these problems, so I reported them to my boss, who is the director of HR, and to several department heads.

Although my superiors were willing to investigate some situations, they seemed reluctant to address any concerns that might involve executives. I was encouraged to overlook these matters and was advised that pursuing them could damage people’s careers.

Because I believe it is my duty to report violations of state and federal law, I went around my management chain and contacted our ethics department. Since no one else was willing to file a grievance about these issues, I reported them myself. Now I have received a very negative performance review. What should I do?

A: Based on your description, there are two possible interpretations of this situation. The first is that you have joined a company where questionable behaviors are tolerated and perhaps even practiced by senior management. As a result, you have learned the hard way that the values of top executives always influence employee-related decisions.

For that reason, a key component of job satisfaction for HR professionals is compatibility between their own values and those of the people above them. So if you are experiencing an ethical mismatch, the ultimate solution is to find an employer whose standards are similar to your own.

On the other hand, an alternative scenario is that you are crusading against problems which may not actually exist. While some legal issues are clear-cut, many others are a matter of perception, so you need to be sure that personal biases are not clouding your professional judgment.

The very best HR people serve as both management representatives and employee advocates. But when either role has an exclusive focus, problems inevitably result. So if you consistently find yourself on the employee side of every issue, you may need to examine your own motivations.

Q: Our new secretary, “Jackie,” is driving me crazy. Although I initially trained her, I am not Jackie’s supervisor. Nevertheless, she constantly interrupts me with questions and asks me to proofread her documents. This has been going on for several months.

Frankly, I’m beginning to wonder if Jackie can handle this job. She makes frequent errors and repeatedly asks the same questions.

I often have to remind her about simple, routine tasks. Overseeing Jackie’s work is interfering with my own, so I would like to know how to end this.

A: Helping a new colleague is commendable, but enabling incompetence is not. Because your well-meaning assistance is hiding Jackie’s ineptitude from her boss, it’s time to stop participating in this performance cover-up.

When Jackie comes with questions, suggest that she ask her supervisor. If she requests proofreading, politely explain that you are busy. And since remembering her duties is Jackie’s responsibility, not yours, stop providing those friendly reminders. Once she is operating independently, management should be able to determine whether Jackie is a keeper.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter@officecoach.

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