When You Work in HR, It's The Norm For People Not To Like You

It's the truth.  Working in HR means not everyone is going to like you.  Perhaps no one will like you…except your mom, and even she questions why you work in HR!

Business Insider ran a similar article about “driven” people and I wondered how applicable their advice would be to those desperate for love in HR.  Below is the BI advice, so let's see if it will get you, HR pro, invited to the next company happy hour.

  • Be clear in your own head about why what you want to achieve is so important.  Um, this would be a given for anyone in HR.  If you can't articulate why getting managers to deliver performance evals is crucial – then you probably shouldn't be nagging those who don't do them.
  • Accept responsibility for the parts of your zealotry that need to be improved.  OR – drop the need to be zealous all together.
  • Build a group of friends and mentors whom you can trust to be fair and honest. Yep, you need a posse inside work that will have your back as well as tell you to your face when you've crossed the line.  And to be clear – these peeps should NOT work in HR too.
  • Laugh off the silliest accusations and make yourself smile even though you don't feel like it. Let's face it – you have to

    have thick skin to work in HR.  You also need to be able to laugh at yourself and at times, pretend not to care…..until you get home and then you can beat the crap out of a pillow or go for a healing run around the block.

  • Take time each week to review through your goals and ideas and progress.  Ultimately this is what keeps you in the business of HR.  You have to be able to focus on the right goals – not the fluffy ones – but the ones that will make money or reduce expenses for your company.
  • Tune out almost everyone around you most of the time.  While this could be fun, it's not realistic or prudent.  If you work in HR you have to listen, respond and act.  If you are tuning people out, you probably won't have a job for very long.

Bottom line, working in HR probably isn't going to make you the most popular kid in your company.  But not because it's HR…..but because it's a perception that continues to be perpetuated by those who still think HR should be called “personnel” and work behind locked doors in the basement of your building.

That perception should be beaten like the shag carpet of the 1970's where it originated and never be allowed to come back.

If you believe in the “norm” and the perception of HR, then perhaps you should work in the basement and accept that people are not going to like you.  The rest of us will be at the local bar with the sales and marketing team laughing at jokes about the accountants.  Cheers!


FOT Background Check

Kathy Rapp
Kathy Rapp is the President of hrQ, where she helps companies find groovy HR Talent or HR Consultants to drive business results.  Prior to joining hrQ, Kathy booked more than 15 years of human resources leadership experience working for such companies as Morgan Stanley and First Data Corporation.  A connoisseur of the intersection between pop culture and business, Kathy believes many talent issues can be addressed via the succession planning lessons experienced by Van Halen  (David Lee/Sammy and sadly, Gary Cherone).


  1. LeiLani says:

    This is EXACTLY what I needed on a Monday. #HRproblems -> LOL!

  2. Kathy Rapp says:

    LeiLani – Glad I got a LOL from you! Thanks for the comment!

  3. Jacqui stoller says:

    Thank You for this. You articulated what I feel in the words I would use but can’t because I’m in HR. lol. Have a great day!

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      You’re welcome, Jacqui……and go find those friends/mentors who you can say those words to!

  4. Shannon says:

    I think if you try to avoid the “policeman” label and focus on the “human” aspect as much as possible, this shouldn’t be a problem. A lot of the folks in the profession that exemplify the old perception of HR are very comfortable wearing their policeman hat, and I’m assuming have therefore become very comfortable with not being liked.

    • Rahool says:

      Right on. If you create a positive atmosphere around yourself, whilst being committed and professional your colleagues should embrace you.

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      Thanks for the comment Shannon. I’d add in addition to “human” focus HR has to focus on organizational goals. Hopefully they are in alignment – but sometime we have to balance both!

  5. Sharon says:

    Well said Kathy! Thanks for the laughs — great way to start a week. There are so many HR pro’s putting the “Human” in “Human Resources” and being true biz partners, yet there are still a few perpetuating the “personnel” attitudes. One example: I recently had a few conversations with HR people trying to find ways to “control” social media usage in their companies — that’s ‘tuning out’ in the biggest way, and an attitude that should be ripped out with the ’70’s shag carpet. Why not embrace social media usage and let it help leadership connect with employees, and employees connect with prospective customers and recruits?

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      Sharon – The fact that those HR folks are wanting to ‘control’ social media in 2013 is very telling. Social is OLD NEWS folks – embrace or get out of HR, please!!!!

      I’m sure you set them straight!

  6. Angelica says:

    This is something I absolutely need at this part of my day, week, career, life.
    Thank you.

  7. Greg Modd says:

    Good stuff. As an HR pro I make a point to get out into the engineers, marketing, IT, accounting, finance, and contracts offices and get to know the people I’m working with. Attempt to be the social lubricant of the office that leads to beers during happy hour cracking jokes. I constantly hear “you’re not the typical HR person” because I don’t want to work in a basement. Not too concerned with being liked, however, I prefer respect. Again, good read – thanks Kathy!

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      I am soooo stealing “social lubricant”. Brilliant! Thanks for the comments, Greg.

  8. Lindsey Gardner says:

    It’s has not been my experience and certainly not the “norm” of those I know in the industry to not be liked. If it is, I’d propose you might be doing something wrong. If managers have you doing all the dirty work then you’re using models as old as the personnel days. In the latest SHRM research, HR managers have some of the highest levels of overall job satisfaction across all careers. Reasons given were primarily the feeling of helping. Success isn’t measured by happy hour invitations, but rather meaningful and respectful interactions and reaching goals. Even when delivering something negative, like news of a re org, there is no reason not to like you if you’ve done yor due diligence in presenting sensitively.

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      Agree with all your comments Lindsey (except the ‘feeling of helping’) and hopefully if you re-read the blog you’ll see my title was just meant to get you to read the post! It worked – although not sure you liked it/me which is ok too. I do appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  9. Grey Beard says:

    The thing about “personnel” is that it sounds like “personal” as opposed to the accounting mentality of human resources ie disposable assets. I remember “personnel”, they didn’t work in the abasement, they were approachable, I had a lot of time for them and they didn’t espouse mumbo jumbo like MBO and other fads and more importantly they didn’t try and tell me how to do my job. Having successfully led small to large, single country to multi country, homogenous to diverse (on any dimension – age, gender, experience, …) teams and on any/all measures of success – customer satisfaction, profit, on time delivery, employee satisfaction – so much of what I see from the ‘science’ of HR is little more than amateur hour. Get back and reconnect with people, get more “personal” /”personnel” and then I’ll have more respect for you. Nowadays HR is nothing but a cost and no value add.

    • Bo Bourne says:

      VERY well stated Grey Beard…too many college educated idiots, book smart but lacking in positive interaction.

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      Thanks for the comments Grey Beard….and just like I shouldn’t broad brush my experience with those in “personnel” I’d say to you not everyone in HR today is a fad-chasing academic without empathy for people. Those who vomit HR jargon at me get tough questions – and there are HR pros out there who actually can walk the talk as well as be approachable.

  10. Bo Bourne says:

    I believe the key to any successful HR individual is their approachability and honesty. Because of this approach, I have never been referred to as the bad guy no one liked. In fact, even after termination those very employees returned to me for advice time after time. They knew that what I had done was always fair. Funny, I marched in the St Paddy’s day parade in Savannah in 2007, 14 people came up and put beads on my neck with a hug. Eleven of those had been terminated by me for cause. You can be very well liked in HR if you consistantly make yourself available, not afraid to walk in your subordinates shoes and are always honest with your Team.

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      I love Savannah, Bo – and agree, honesty within all interactions is one of our core values and it serves us well.

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