As an HR Generalist we deal with employment relations issues everyday. It could be anything from payroll issues, holiday entitlements, sick leave issues, poor performance to misconduct. Each of these things impacts the employee and can be the difference between a happy or disgruntled employee.
As an HR professional we are expected to display excellent communication skills during the types of conversations we have on a daily basis, but another skill equally important is we need to have the ability to empathise. Now, I’m not talking sympathy, because we are here to represent the employer and be objective, so this can be a very fine line! Empathy is the capacity to recognise emotions that are being experienced by another human being. I believe everyone has a degree of empathy and the ability to use it, but unfortunately I also believe that cynicism can cloud empathy.
When we are confronted with an employment situation where feelings are involved between two people, HR is expected to be impartial and support the manager in resolving the issue. However, how can one be an effective HR professional when cynicism has overcome our ability to be empathetic towards someone’s emotions and situation?
When an employee comes to you with an issue and asks you to work with their manager to try to resolve it, we cannot allow the cynic in us about certain people or characteristics impact our ability to do our job. There may be a history where the employee is labelled a complainer, or is well known to HR, but does that mean we don’t do our job as an HR professional? I believe we must treat each case in good faith and with empathy for how someone is feeling about a certain situation.
HR professionals go through years and years of working with managers on employment issues and it is expected that they will see similar cases arise again and again – bullying, high sick leave, medical incapacity, poor performance, misconduct. Some employees may present similar attitudes or similar contributions to their current predicament, but as professionals we need to ensure that exposure to these situations doesn’t taint our empathy to do our jobs and to do our jobs well. We need to treat each employee as a unique human being, with unique emotions and unique coping mechanisms in each new and unique situation. As HR professionals we need to ensure we act in good faith and work with managers to get the best possible outcome for all involved, even if that outcome may be a compromise.
It is human nature to get tired of having to deal with the same thing over and over again, but in regards to employment issues, even though the type of situation may be the same, the details and feelings are not. We need to be sure we are going into each case with a clear head and with no preconceived feelings about the situation or person. We need to be impartial and professional and ensure that we provide the employee with time and consideration they deserve. So please leave your cynicism at the front door.