Do line managers actually understand HR?

10 things many line managers just don't get

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

It’s obvious many line managers and even some senior business leaders don't quite understand HR, our roles and responsibilities or what we actually do. The following are what I consider the 10 most common misconceptions about HR in the minds of line managers and executives:

1. We're not there to do line managers' jobs for them

No matter how much managers would like us to, it's not our role to manage the performance of employees or make decisions relating to compensation, performance ratings or promotions.

And it's line managers, not HR, who should be having difficult conversations with employees (albeit possibly with advice and support from HR).

2. We can't fill a vacancy in a week

While managers would obviously like to fill jobs sooner rather than later, most jobs take at least a month to fill. That’s because it takes time to obtain permission to recruit, create and post a requisition, review resumés, conduct and schedule prescreens and interviews, shortlist candidates, obtain feedback from hiring managers, conduct reference and background checks, create and send out offer packages and obtain completed paperwork from successful candidates (who frequently also have to provide notice to their current employers).   

3. We don't determine budgets for salary increases or bonuses

HR is often accused of being stingy and inflexible when it comes to allocating budgets for base pay increases and incentive pay.

Yet because compensation costs in many industries represent the organization's single largest expense, the pools for these programs are usually allocated in consultation with finance and executives at the most senior levels. And the organization's financial position, prevailing economic conditions and what's going on in the external labour market all have an impact.

4. Training isn't the answer for every performance issue

Trainers must wish they had a dollar for every time a manager approached them to conduct a training program for one or more employees where lack of training clearly wasn’t the problem. Many line managers just don’t understand the need to conduct a training needs analysis before recommending a specific training intervention. And training is unlikely to be a solution where a performance problem is organizational, cultural or attitudinal in nature.

5. We're not slaves to organizational rules and policies

HR frequently gets accused of being inflexible in a misguided attempt to enforce equality on all employees, regardless of the situation.

On the one hand, consistency is important from a legal compliance perspective. But we recognize every case is different, and policies need to be flexible enough to deal with different fact situations. And modern approaches to diversity don’t advocate treating everyone exactly the same way.

6. We're not responsible for the ever-increasing regulation of employment

HR is frequently blamed for being too focused on compliance. Yet with governments and the courts constantly adding to the legal and regulatory burden placed on employers, we have no choice but to take note of changes in the law and make senior management aware of potential legal and financial risks.

These risks are very real. And, in most cases, we aren't the ones who lobbied the government for increased regulation. In other words: “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

7. We don't just do recruitment, recordkeeping and planning company picnics

This old stereotype of HR either sees us as highly transactional or “touchy-feely, rah, rah, rah corporate cheerleader” types. While there's little doubt some HR professionals still conform to those old stereotypes, as a whole we’ve moved on.     

8. We’re not a bastion of excessive political correctness

Contrary to popular belief, HR professionals aren't devoid of any personality or a sense of humour. And we're not there to act as an organization's “fun police.”

In fact, we recognize one way to positively engage employees is making the work environment more fun. And most of us actually do enjoy a good joke.

9. We’re not the dumping ground for people who couldn't make it elsewhere

While many people in the past may have “fell into” HR more or less accidentally, HR is now a profession in its own right. Bright young people are now making a conscious decision to go into HR.

And they are increasingly getting their HR education and training through advanced degrees and MBA programs. It’s simply no longer true the best and brightest don’t go into HR.

10. We aren't just a ‘necessary evil’

HR is often one of the first areas to be cut in poor economic times. Then employers wonder why employee engagement scores are so low – because they’ve cut the budgets for the very things that actually engage employees, along with the people to manage those programs.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit   

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