Is Your Office a Dumping Ground for Complaints?

“You’re in charge of morale around here, right?”

The man in my office door was an experienced, confident technician. An “I’m-always-right” kind of guy who frequently advised me on my failures.

“Not yours,” I told him, “just mine for the most part. What’s on your mind?”

So began one of my first days as the HR manager at a large plant. I had worked there for over two years in other roles, but now that I was in this one, I was going to see things in a whole new way.

I found my way into HR by managers opening doors and pushing me through them. They recognized something in what I do and how I work that was NOT in the mold or our previous generation of HR managers, but they took a chance on me. They thought my analytical style would be helpful in the challenges ahead.

But change is hard, and helping employees learn that HR is not a dumping ground was my first big task. I ran the risk of shutting down the flow of information, but what ended up happening is that the habitual complainers stopped seeking me out, and the people who wanted to be enabled starting showing up.

I call it “Bring me problems, but take them with you when you leave”.

Just to clarify, I get that there are complaints that require attention at full throttle. Safety issues, harassment, unfair treatment, and all those kind of things. But my predecessors were parental, and I would now have to train people to manage many of their own problems.

I’m collaborative, really I am. Just not when I don’t need to be.

5 Responses to Is Your Office a Dumping Ground for Complaints?

  1. That’s quite a hill to climb. Be wary of those who would impede just to roadblock change.

    But your intent is a good one. We need more of that in HR. I look forward to reading your progress!

    • Thanks Dwane. Actually I have climbed this hill, and many others. Part of what I hope to do with the blog is share some learnings from a more analytical problem solving approach to HR. Sometimes I might get a little snarky (no whining), but mostly I hope to present useful content.

  2. I agree completely!

    My old boss does a really great imitation of me chirping perkily, “Wow! How do you plan to handle that?!” whenever people come in with a whine. She thinks it’s hilarious that I somehow get away with it.

    People learn pretty quick that my one rule is, “if it’s not discriminatory, and doesn’t require investigation, I will find a way to get you to go directly to the person who can impact your problem. And 99% of the time, that isn’t me.”

    • For me, the challenge at that time was that my predecessor had been so much like a favorite uncle. I actually think people appreciate being (and I almost hate to use this word) enabled to solve their own problems. They were able to before they came to my door.

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