Science of Self ™ Knowledge Centre

Why (Some) People Hate HR – The Top 10 Criticisms

Feb 6, 2013


"I tell people I’m an HR person and they’re like OOOOOH, that sucks for you. I cannot believe YOU work in HR; you have a vibrant personality and you’re fun... people think HR people suck.” — Jillian Walker, HR BloggerThe single funniest response we’ve ever seen to criticism of Human Resources comes from an HR pro called Meredith Soleau: ‘Hey HR Lady, In Case You Are Living In Denial, Everybody Hates You.’

But probably the single most infamous critique of the HR profession was the article by Keith Hammonds for Fast Company in 2005: 'Why We Hate HR'.

Some HR execs aren’t fans of outsiders like Keith who’ve never worked in Human Resources and bag on their profession without understanding the realities of the role: how HR can be a thankless job, how they are constantly responding to problems created by other employees, and especially the part that the CEO plays in determining how effective it is allowed to be ('If HR sucks, look at the CEO').

Even though Keith’s article draws a lot of criticism itself, many within the ranks of HR agree it has a lot of truth and that more needs to be done to raise awareness of what needs to improve.

Surprisingly, since there isn't a similar research-based list that exists on the web, we've put one together that aggregates 10 of the most common concerns about HR. These certainly and emphatically do NOT apply to every HR person — every profession has excellent people, and atrocious ones.

It’s missing a detailed rebuttal to every point, and we apologise for that, but for brevity's sake we will need to address the counter arguments in a separate article.

The Top 10:hr_seat_table1. Need to step up, add measurable value, and be more ‘strategic’.

“Many HR people invest more in activities than outcomes.” — David Ulrich

"A high quality senior HR person is as critical as the CFO… [but] HR need to get out of the picnic and insurance forms business." — Jack Welch

"I hate it when HR brings me a problem without also bringing me an answer... I hope that she/he will have an opinion as to how we should handle it, or some options on different approaches. They should also be ready with pros and cons on their ideas, as most of these situations are not so clear cut." — A CEO

  • Must evolve from an administrative function to a strategic talent management function.
  • Must demonstrate the value/benefits of activities, and apply metrics.
  • Need to be more proactive, not just reactive.


2. Lacking Financial/Business Acumen.

[Advice to HR Graduates]: "Make sure you also get some sort of business experience - whatever that might be - because I don’t think HR will add enough value if they have not experienced the real world. That’s a criticism of the role – HR doesn’t understand the business and they don’t have that commercial nous, which in many cases is probably true. So what I say is, go get it." — Fiona Cole, HR Manager

  • Need to be able to speak the language of the CEO/CFO.
  • Not the 'sharpest tacks in the box.
  • 'The best and brightest business students don’t go into HR.
  • CEOs almost never come for the HR department.
  • HR people are the 'pink and fluffy', 'airy-fairy' type.


3. Compliance Nazis / The Paperwork & Policy Police.

"We won't even consider supporting a termination unless there have been 3 verbal warnings, 4 written memos and a suspension on file regardless of the individual situation." — HR Manager

  • Design and enforce too many stupid rules.
  • Don’t use enough common sense.
  • Put up road blocks.
  • Stifle creativity.
  • Waste people's time.


4. Mindless Hit-men.

"HR is the unpopular kid, but one reason they are the unpopular kid is that HR is the teacher's pet. It isn't just that HR does the teacher's bidding, but HR does it as if they are robots. They are like hit-men — they do as they are told without thinking." — Thomas Garrod

  • HR are seen as a bunch of ‘what-is-thy-biding-my-master’ lapdogs to the CEO.


5. Lacking Personal 'Like-ability'.

“I tell people I’m an HR person and they’re like OOOOOH, that sucks for you. I cannot believe YOU work in HR; you have a vibrant personality and you’re fun... people think HR people suck.” — Jillian Walker, HR Blogger

  • HR is like Marge Simpson — the mum who groans and nags.


6. Lacking PR/Communication/Influencing Skills.

"63.5% of HR respondents believe that employees in the business do not understand or are unsure about what the human resources department does or what it should be doing. Of non-HR respondents to the survey, that number stands at 80.4%" — AHRI, HR pulse Research Report 2007

  • HR needs to be better at selling itself, communicating what it does, and influencing others in the organisation.


7. Lacking Recruitment Expertise.

“In one worst case scenario, the HR staff hired a single mum, placed her in the [city] office, and never told her that she would be expected to travel about 25% (or more) of her time. This was a disaster for a single mother with no support structure in a new city.” — Susan Heathfield, HR Writer

  • Many HR people don't have proper recruitment training on how to create a job description, write advertisements, source candidates, or conduct interviews.
  • HR is often on a different frequency than the actual hiring manager.
  • HR is often judging employees on jobs they have no actual experience in.


8. Lacking Legal Expertise.

"Do HR professionals have the IR skills required to navigate the complex landscape of industrial disputes? You told us a resounding ‘no’.” — Human Capital Magazine, 2012

"Many current HR teams seem to be less knowledgeable about workplace law than in the past." — Greg Bamber, Group Leader HR and Employment Relations, Monash University, 2012

"This Court unfortunately sees too many instances similar to the matters in this case that are inappropriately and incompetently approached by persons who parade under the banner of Human Resources specialists." — Federal Magistrate Lloyd-Jones (Vong v Sika Australia case), 2011

  • Don’t know Industrial Relations (IR) legislation and related employment laws as well as they should.


9. Lacking Performance Management Expertise.

"The annual review needs to be killed. I don’t care if you kill it with a blunt knife, a gun, or a fork; you need to kill that annual review and really think about how to give people timely, appropriate, relevant feedback that’s not coming from a HR-driven process, but from a business-driven process." — Laurie Ruettimann, HR Speaker

  • Often the process is managed by lower-level HR administrators without a complete understanding of performance and productivity.

hr_speak_110. HR Jargon.

“HR is full of bloody jargon.” — Malcolm Jackman, CEO, Coates Hire

"If you are unfamiliar with HR’s well-earned reputation for the overuse of creative language and jargon, a simple Google search can quickly reveal that those outside the profession often refer to it as “HR gobbledygook,” “HR blah blah,” “HR babble,” “HR Bulls**t,” and my favourite, “HR speak.” " — Dr. John Sullivan

  • Examples: Downsizing, Rightsizing, Redundancy, Retrenchment, Outsourcing, Remuneration, Executive Search, Competency Framework, Employee Value Proposition, Intellectual Capital, Performance Appraisal, Key Performance Indicators, Human Capital Management, Employee Engagement, Change Management, Strategic HRM, Training Needs Analysis, Talent Pipeline, Alignment, Centralisation, Value-Add, Leverage, Paradigm.

Agree/Disagree with the order?

Are these concerns outdated, or still a reality in 2013?

Topics: Human Resources

Theo Winter

Theo Winter

Client Services Manager, Writer & Researcher. Theo is one of the youngest professionals in the world to earn an accreditation in TTI Success Insight's suite of psychometric assessments. For more than a decade, he worked with hundreds of HR, L&D and OD professionals and consultants to improve engagement, performance and emotional intelligence of leaders and their teams. He authored the book "40 Must-Know Business Models for People Leaders."


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