When I was in college I worked as a Shift Supervisor at a local grocery store. Working my way up from cashiering, I found I had a knack for keeping the front-end operations of the store running smoothly. I was great at problem-solving on the fly and made sure to build relationships with my co-workers so I could better utilize their strengths during peak hours. Despite this, I wasn’t always the best embodiment of the old adage “The Customer is Always Right“. Sometimes the customer was an angry horde of double-coupon-wielding midwestern moms who didn’t read the fine print, and after one particular bout my store manager said to me:
“You’re going to need to learn to sugarcoat things if you’re going to work in HR.”
Here’s the thing—HR is not customer service.
Do we have a client base? Yep.
Do we have to be polite and professional? Absolutely.
But not every person is going to walk away from your office happy, and that’s okay.
Many HR folks are people-pleasers by nature yet are often responsible for delivering upsetting or unpopular news. There’s nothing wrong with being an optimist, but we also need to be clear, honest and direct when communicating with others. While compassion is a crucial skill in Human Resources, we’re also at a higher risk of developing empathy burnout when we continue to overextend ourselves to satisfy others.
When handling sensitive situations, we need to be as straightforward as possible to avoid misunderstandings that could possibly land an organization in serious legal trouble. Being upfront will save time (and possibly money) in the long-run if an employee misinterprets your words.
Not only do we as HR professionals need to be upfront and honest with our employees, but we also need to empower others to do so as well. Managers are often hesitant to provide critical feedback for many reasons, including lack of time, inadequate training, or even skipping it altogether in an effort to avoid confrontation. When managers fail to properly address and document performance issues they are failing their employees while potentially putting the organization at risk.
While this doesn’t give you a free pass to start being an ogre to everyone who crosses your path, sometimes the extra sugar is better served with coffee.