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  • Writer's pictureRalph Kellogg

Stop Using Human Resources as the Company Referee

If you have worked in the field of Human Resources (HR) for more than 10 minutes, you have likely been involved in situations where you have been asked to mediate a conflict between employees. You have probably been asked by a manager, “I don’t know what to do…my staff members are not getting along will you talk to them?”

My personal favorite, is when a manager comes to me and says, “my team is not getting along, I want to help them, but I don’t like conflict, can you (HR) talk to them for me?”

Treating HR as the company referee is a common mistake that many organizations make. HR departments are crucial for managing various aspects of the workforce, but they should not be viewed solely as referees in employee disputes or conflicts. Instead, HR should play a more proactive and strategic role in creating a positive work environment and supporting both employees and the organization.

Here are some reasons why HR should not be seen as just the company referee:

Strategic Partner: HR should be an integral part of the organization's leadership team, working closely with management to align HR strategies with the company's overall goals. This involves workforce planning, talent development, and ensuring the organization has the right people in the right roles.

Employee Advocacy: HR should act as an advocate for employees, ensuring that their rights are protected, and they are treated fairly and with respect. By building trust and rapport with employees, HR can help to address concerns before they escalate into conflicts.

Conflict Resolution: While HR may get involved in conflict resolution, it should not be their sole responsibility. Managers and leaders within the organization should be equipped with conflict resolution skills, and HR can support them in handling these situations effectively.

Policy and Compliance: HR is responsible for creating and implementing policies that ensure compliance with labor laws, regulations, and company guidelines. However, they should also communicate these policies clearly to employees and support their understanding and adherence.

Employee Development: HR plays a crucial role in facilitating training and development programs for employees to enhance their skills and knowledge. This helps in improving overall productivity and job satisfaction.

Recruitment and Retention: HR is responsible for attracting and retaining top talent. They should focus on creating a positive employer brand and hiring candidates who fit well with the company culture and values.

By putting HR at the center of conflict resolution, the department manager becomes more of a character in a larger play, rather than the central figure leading the team through conflict. 

From an HR perspective, being placed in the middle of every employee conflict gives the perception of HR being the “disciplinarian” or “the villain,” within the organization. Having HR involved in every conflict is no better than being hauled off to the principal’s office for talking in class. 

To avoid treating HR solely as the company referee, organizations should foster a culture of open communication, respect, and cooperation throughout the entire company. HR should be seen as a supportive resource, working together with other departments to promote a healthy and productive work environment for all employees.

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