Being too nice for HR

If someone tells you that you are too nice to be in HR? Does
this mean I am not suited to the career as my personal qualities don’t reflect
what people are used to i.e. most HR people not being nice people. If you are a
people pleaser what aspects of HR would someone like me better off in for example
recruitment, training? Perhaps avoiding employee relations? I am very friendly
can this be a bad thing for HR?

Thanks for any suggestions/opinions 

  • Farah

    Who told you this and is it possible to ask them what they meant and to give you some more structured feedback? It sounds like a very generalised comment to me?

    There is nothing wrong with HR people being nice. Most HR people I know and work with are nice.

    I would be a little more concerned with "people pleaser" - lots of debate around this but HR is about delivering the people environment to create a successful business. Part of this (a big part) will be helping to create an engaged workforce that's not quite the same as a being people pleasers? There is a line to be drawn between what the business needs and simply agreeing to what an individual (manager or employee) wants.


  • Thanks for the input Keith!

    I think my manager is trying to say I need to toughen up and perhaps not get too close with people as I work onsite with the employees. I have been told not be too attentive to employees needs, however I struggle to get the balance right with business needs. For example if a manager wanted to get rid of someone with no documented evidence I would argue without it I can't advice that, however this has turned around on my in the sense its my fault we have under performing staff member  and we can't get rid of them and they are causing problems by bringing our customer satisfaction rates low and complaints are being made by customers. 

  • Advising not to get rid of someone without going through a process is not about being nice or not but about taking a view on process and risk. Its about assessing the risk to the business and the damage keeping them will cause against the cost/risk of getting rid.

    So some one with short service it may well be appropriate to go through a very simple quick process (invite, discuss, dismiss) where as with a longer serving member of staff it may be a different process.

    At the end of the day you are paid to advise and it is the Manager / GM who is there to decide who to employ and who to dismiss.

    But perhaps its about you stepping back and giving both sides  ie Really we should be doing X,Y or Z and heres how and the alternative is dismissing but here is the risk in terms of cost and/or image etc.

    That's not nice / not nice to me but commercial adviser V process enforcer :-)

  • The reason we didn't advise to get rid of the employee was because we found the handover diary open on the F&B office. The HR manager read the handover as it is open, so open to be read by anyone and found that we are calling staff members by "names" i.e. “princess”. The HR manager looked at the rota to see who had been removed and it was quite obvious who was "princess".

    We advised the F&B Manger firstly you need to understand that because we have chosen to remove a full time member of staff from the rota we are still legally bound to pay them their wages!! If they had told us they were unavailable then it's a different story, however at the minute we are paying two lots of wages - one for them to sit at home because you have issues with them and then for someone else to cover the full time hours.

    Secondly as the diary was open who else has read this and done the same as me and looked at the rota to see who is missing?? The employee could have read this themselves and we could now be looking at a clear cut tribunal case for bullying and victimisation and also for removing them from the rota without any good cause or reason!!  We would not want to be sat in that tribunal as we would loose handsomely and for someone who has only 49 days service!!!!

    The HR manager also advised that the team needs to address this asap - if there are performance issues they need to be dealt with as everyone has a 3 month probationary period in which we are covered legally to terminate a contract of employment, so long as you have followed the correct procedures.
  • Sorry I don't really follow your last post or your role in regards to this against the HR manager quoted above? Probably just me being dumb.

    If the person has only 49 days service then I doubt you would lose handsomely or otherwise at Tribunal but may have wrong end of stick. Unless there is more to it then you may well be able to dismiss reasonably safely if they are not working out.

    However you will still need to address appropriate management behaviours.

  • Hi Farah

    If I had a penny for each time I was told I was too nice to work in HR - I would be a rich man and wouldn't need to work at all!! People are the greatest asset a Company can have and don't forget to include yourself in that mix! Staff respond to an approachable nature, staff engage more when you speak kindly and compassionately to them and you can still deliver a negative message in a nice way - nothing wrong with that. You'll also find that perceived "hard nosed" HR or other Management folk, are the basis for many employee relations issues themselves, and in many cases succeed in making bad situations worse! In any case, you can't change your personality, or suddenly become a tougher person overnight. In my personal view there are types of staff - (A) there are those who will respond positively to your approach, appreciate your compassion and friendly nature and will strive to reciprocate that in what they do "on the job" (b) those who will see your approach as a weakness, and something to be exploited or taken advantage of. The good thing is that type "b" are are very tiny minority and you can easily work out who they are - if I asked you for a list of names of your staff today who had tried to get one over on you because of your nature, I am quite certain you could tell me who these people are. Safe in this knowledge therefore, but while still remaining your personable self, you can deal with these people in the appropriate way - you may have to say "no" or challenge them about their conduct - you can also follow the most difficult disciplinary or dismissal process through while still maintaining a "humane" approach - I know this because I've done it and a nice approach has always worked for me. Without wanting to sound self congratulatory or arrogant, I have held senior HR posts and have never sought to change my personable approach. Keep being yourself - you'll go al long way!


  • Being nice as Keith says, isn't a fault in any way shape or form.   But if you are also seen as soft or un-assertive then perhaps that is different.

    And being 'nice' doesn't stop you from being firm and/or assertive.  This is somethingyou should aspire too.  And not just HR folk either.


    I always remembered I was employed by the companies I worked for as a manager to provide advice to fellow managers.  My advice was normally couched in terms of, "If you do this to employee xxx, this may happen", and generally ALWAYS let the manager/s concerned make their own decision.


    Farah, like Keith I'm rather lost in the comments about 'princess'. 


  • I had a hard conversation with an employee the other day when I was explaining HR's role in an investigation process.  He expressed a belief that HR should be on the side of "what's right".  I had to explain that our interest was not in what was "right" - given how hard it can practically be to determine right and wrong in many employee situations - but in what was in the best interests of the organisation.

    This position means that if can be counter-productive to become too attached to our employees.  That doesn't mean that we can't be nice people, but it does mean that a certain amount of emotional detachment is helpful to the ability to sleep at night.

  • We are employees with a duty of loyalty to our employers and acting in our employer's interests, but we work ethically and within a legal framework. Sometimes that means saying that something isn't right - although that applies to every function in an organisation, not just HR. ( I utterly reject the view touted about after Enron, the banking crisis etc that HR should be the conscience of the organisation). Robey - you risk that employee believing you were taking the position of expediency without morality and I don't think that's what you really meant.

    Farah - I agree with the comments above. You absolutely can be a nice person and work in HR. You will, however, have less work-related stress if you can cultivate the emotional detachment advised by Robey. I know that's hard when you care about what you do. It's also hard in HR when it is in the nature of what we do that at some point the colleagues we have had lunch with and worked with are involved in a disciplinary situation, or redundancy consultation or had a grievance raised against them ... ... ... and you must fairly and impartially facilitate the process.

    There are some really odd stereotypes attached to HR. Some people think we are the fluffy bunnies who like people and want to be everyone's friend - like work-place nannies or industrial social workers. Other people think we are the secret police. I suppose that these stereotypes flourish because so much of our work is confidential. We can't take the fluffy-bunny-lovers with us into redundancy consultation meetings to watch us shut down a site, or allow the gestapo-fearers to sit in while we coach and support someone battling a bully.

    The important thing here is to know what your manager expects of HR and plan accordingly - do you need to find a way to influence upwards to change his/her expectation, or do you work for someone who "gets" HR and can help you with your internal PR? In HR, any job is nearly impossible if you have no credibility, and you might have inherited a reputation a predecessor created.

  • Gosh Elizabeth, I have just read your comments above and you make so much sense!I think it is true when you say you can inherit a reputation.

  • Superbly put Elizabeth.

    To develop further on one of the other good points made by colleagues above, much of the "Fluffy Bunny -v- Gestapo" dichotomy falls away if you recognise that HR does not "manage people": It manages how people are managed; creating (as Keith says) the environment in which people operate.

    Thus if some line manager is treating their subordinates with disrespect and abuse then HR should be stepping in, not to mop up tears and hand out sympathy (although both these may be incidentally necessary in the investigative "phase") but to "revise" (for want of a less polite term) the manager's attitudes and behaviour.

    So in such a case the employee(s) might think we're warm and fluffy, but the manager will (initially at least) be looking for our swastika arm-band!

    On the other hand, if an employee is wilfully underperforming, then our role on the management of that underperformance may well have them accusing us of being trained by Mr Himmler, and it will be our management colleagues who will cheer our support in rectifying (or removing) their problem.

    In fact, we're playing neither of the roles: Our real objective is to create a working environment in which law is complied with (keeping the company out of the courts; protecting its reputation, and minimising its losses from defending cases, paying awards, or having to recruit/re-recruit unnecessarily), employees are "engaged", sharing the company's interest in getting its product or service to market and so prepared to deliver their maximum effort consistently and reliably (minimising disciplinary and capability interventions; allowing the delivery of effort to be relied upon strategically, and creating a significant "bonus" of profitability from seamless and uninterrupted production), and operational line managers can apply the productive effort delivered (the "real" human resource) to their own departmental objectives with maximum efficiency and minimum additional intervention by them regarding the "side issues" of subordinates personal needs and imperatives (sickness, flexible working, contractual issues etc. etc. etc.) getting "in the way".

    In fact this makes the depth of our relationships with employees pretty immaterial so long as there is a clear understanding that if we need to act for the employer in pursuing misconduct or under performance by anyone (including friends or other managers) then we will do so, fairly but firmly, because that is our job.

    That said, there is a clear benefit to our being perceived as approachable etc. as that way we will hear the things we would otherwise not be told... but again our duty is to  the company, our employer, so it must always be understood (especially by ourselves) that if we hear something which can become a detriment to the company (such as an allegation of harassment we are later asked to forget) we must  pursue it. (If we did not and it later emerged that we had been told, not only would the company be in dire trouble, since in our position our knowing meant that in law it also knew, but the ramifications for our own position are obvious!)

    So I think Roby expresses it wrongly when he suggests we have no interest in "...what's right..." Because by definition we certainly do, but as he goes on to suggest, what is right for the employer (and thus, by definition, in law and ethical principle, so not open to damaging challenge) may not be right for one or more employees (or managers).


  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    23 Oct, 2013 13:51

    In reply to Sarah Whitham:

    Farah - thank you for starting what has become (I feel) a rather important thread.
  • This has been really interesting reading.  I think like many others, I decided I wanted a career in HR which was partly based on misconceptions about "working with people" and "helping people".  Of course in my job roles I have and continue to do both, but not necessarily in the way I imagined. 

    Being "nice" of course means different things to different people, but the stereotypes that continue to grow about HR are still a source of frustration.  It would be lovely to see a realistic or at least slightly positive portrayal of HR in the media, for example.  All too often the HR person is the crazy type shown in the Green Wing or either along the little Hitler/tissue bearing middle-aged woman extremes discussed above.  I agree that sometimes confidentiality clouds an accurate picture of what are jobs are like but wonder if there isn't some way to combat that, either on an individual level or as a profession.

    Thanks to Farah for raising the initial question.


  • Peter and Elizabeth...thank you very much for your fantastic insight ! it really helps upcoming HR Professionals like myself to have a clear picture and perhaps be well equipped in case of situations like this in the future.


    With regards to your situation. Firstly, if the employee has been working for just 49 days, I assume he/she would be under probationary period. In that case, terminating his/her employment due to unsatisfactory performance would not be a problem if there is such a clause in the contract of employment or the company handbook.

    Secondly, it is unlikely that such a case would go to the Employment Appeals Tribunal as generally the employee should have at least 12 months continuous service for them to even appeal to the EAT. However, they can claim for unfair dismissal under the Industrial Relations Act of 1969 (as amended) where it is not required to have 12 months continuous service to make an appeal.

    Good Luck and hope things work out well for you..After all at the end of the day you would rather be a nice person and be known for that than a difficult one.. :)

  • Hi Suneeth

     Hope you do't mind me pointing out that there appear to me to be some be some very big misconceptions in your post.

    Unfair dismissal is a purely-statutory concept which doesn't apply until length of continuous employment permits - presently two years.

     Employment Tribunals (NOT the Employment Appeal Tribunal) can hear eligible claims for unfair dismissal, but not until the dismissed employee becomes eligible - unless in cases of unlawful discrimination, this is currently after 24 months continuous employment.

    Before rights under unfair dismissal apply, employers can as unfairly as they like dismiss new and recent employees (with a few rare exceptions).

     I'm not trying to 'score points' here - just concerned that other colleagues reading your remarks aren't misled.