When Is The “Right” Time to Go To HR for Help?

You’ve had it! You’re sick and tired of your supervisor’s behavior and you’re not going to tolerate it anymore. He gets on your nerves with micromanaging, perpetual grumpiness, ineffective work processes and he just gave someone else the assignment you really wanted.
Well, despite your frustration, don’t constantly head off to the human resources department to complain about him unless you want to risk being labeled a troublemaker. But, know that there are some perfectly legitimate reasons to request help.Man whispering secrets at the watercooler
“I wouldn’t recommend going to HR the same way you would to go a manager at a restaurant when you get bad service,” said Deb Cohen, senior vice president of knowledge development at the Society for Human Resource Management. “It really should be something of a more serious nature.”
If your supervisor engages in illegal activities, like not complying with equal employment opportunity laws, it would be the kind of HR problems that allow you to report him to human resources. EEO laws protect employees from discrimination and harassment based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex and disability. They also protect employees from being retaliated against when they report discrimination, file a charge of discrimination or cooperate with an EEO investigation. (see EEOC at http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/index.cfm)
Other illegal activities are associated with workplace health and safety. Some include physical, mechanical, and chemical hazards as well as workplace violence and occupational stress. (visit the Department of Labor’s (DoL) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) web site at https://www.osha.gov for specific details) Although in some companies HR may not actually handle workplace safety issues, it is a good place to start to find out who does.
Questions about compensation and benefits are also in HR’s arena.
So what do you do when your HR problems are not as serious as these, but are still important, like when your co-worker gets that plum assignment over you?
“Go to your supervisor and ask if there is a reason you were not chosen and what you can do to improve your chances of getting the assignment later on,” said Cohen.
There could be a very good reason.  Perhaps you don’t have the level of knowledge, skills or seniority that are required. Document those reasons or requirements and the actions you take to improve them.
“Then, if you are passed over three more times that may indicate a pattern of behavior for which you might seek counsel from HR,” Cohen said.
Any time you request HR help, be prepared with evidence of when and how a supervisor crossed the line with inappropriate or unprofessional behavior.
The bottom line, according to Cohen, is that “It comes down to whether you have evidence that there is a problem. You can’t just have a feeling there is one.”
Finally, if you can’t pinpoint a legal issue, figure out what specifically bothers you and try to fix it.
  • If you don’t like the work processes, requirements or other job-related issues, tame your negative feelings and make positive recommendations for improvements.
  • If it’s a minor interpersonal conflict (there are a lot of reasons that people don’t ‘hit it off’) schedule a meeting with your supervisor to discuss it. You both might understand each other better and improve your interactions.
  • If it is strictly his personality that bothers you, get over it, especially if you like your job.
In any of these cases it may be a perfect time to develop your interpersonal skills, if you want to advance.  HR can usually provide information on job training and professional development resources as well as advise you about applying for other internal jobs.