Human resources—whether this is a manager or a department, their responsibilities are the same: to protect the company who hired them against things like staff turnover, lawsuits, low employee morale or unsafe working conditions. If you have issues or complaints as an employee and are tempted to talk to HR, you may want to think twice.
Human Resources are not bound by confidentiality laws. Human Resources professionals are good with people and they are good listeners. Employees often view HR staff as a counselor of sorts—kind of like a work psychiatrist with patient confidentiality in place. This can sometimes lull you into the sense that they are your friend and that they are trustworthy. But at the end of the day, even if they are trustworthy and of good character, HR professionals have a job to do. When asked questions by your employer, they are going to answer truthfully. Even if it means sharing information that you shared with them.
They may share information you share with them. When you share with them that you absolutely cannot stand the guy in the cubicle next to you, it will most likely be shared again. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide what to share with Human Resources and what to keep to yourself. Especially if you are questioned about an incident and a coworker was at fault or at least partly at fault, in your opinion. Do you tell the HR manager how you feel about this employee and their misdoings? Well, like the old saying goes—be careful what you say because it could come back to bite you.
Some topics are taboo. If you are interviewing with a new company, you don’t need to talk about your marital status or your age or your religion—to a human resources professional, these are closed subjects. They are more concerned with your skills and work ethic. And never bash your former employee. HR folks don’t like to hear that. State the reasons you left in a professional manner and point out that you wanted to seek new and different challenges. Do not dwell on negative things.
Also, please refrain from sharing personal matters that are too personal. In other words, it is okay to let them know that you have a health condition which will have you going on doctor visits for a couple of months. It is not okay to talk about your roommate’s lack of personal hygiene or how grossed out you are by the neighbor with the skin condition. Remember, even things you say lightly in conversation can be taken seriously by that Human Resources professional and they can – albeit unknowingly or unwillingly – judge you because of the personal things you tell them…or even repeat your statements.
However, this does not mean that you can’t point out problems or challenges on your team or in your department. It is okay to talk to Human Resources about these issues if you can also offer suggestions for a solution.
You may be a chatty person. But don’t be too chatty with Human Resources. Smile and give them the information that they ask for but do so in a professional manner. If you have a problem in the workplace, do all you can to work it out with your coworkers and immediate supervisor and document these efforts. This way, if you do have to get the HR person involved, you’ll have record of your attempts to resolve the issue.