11 Common Stereotypes About Human Resources Versus Reality.

June 1, 2022 by

There are many stereotypes about Human Resources that give HR departments a bad rap within their organizations.  These unfair allegations often prevent people from wanting to build a career in Human Resources.  

Here are some of the most common myths about Human Resources, where they might originate, and the ultimate reality or truth:


1. HR Lacks Business And Data Knowledge 


The stereotype:  Numerous people claim that HR does not understand how their organization makes money, let alone know how to make data-driven decisions.  This gross misconception originates from people having a limited understanding of what Human Resources does, both by managers and employees, largely since HR’s focus is on employees and not necessarily the organization’s product or services.


The reality:  It is imperative that HR has a strong business acumen and data literacy, such that it can successfully contribute to the organization, as well as be a successful partner to the organization’s leadership team.

For example, there is no way HR can successfully recruit the right talent for a position without having a keen idea about the job role, the industry, and the job market.

Moreover, HR has become increasingly data-driven when analyzing challenges within the organization.  The simple truth is that HR professionals not only must understand the data, but also be able to identify solutions based on various metrics and analytics.  A perfect example is having HR regularly calculate and track the employee turnover rate, analyzing the reasons for that turnover, and taking timely action to reduce that turnover.


2. Human Resources Has Little Responsibility Beyond Paperwork, Administration, And Bureaucracy


The stereotype:  HR is largely seen as administrators responsible for ensuring paperwork completion and policy compliance.  Very often senior leaders, managers, and employees are simply unaware of all of HR’s strategic and tactical work. 


The reality:  Record-keeping, documentation, as well as policy and procedure compliance are critical functions of Human Resources, for a whole host of reasons.  However, HR’s primary responsibilities are strategic.

The ultimate purpose of successful Human Resources departments is to yield the best results from employees, in order for the organization to reach, or exceed, its goals.  The best HR departments cast themselves into the role of Strategic Business Partner and can be relied upon to design and implement courses of action that springboard the company to success.  Needless to say, this positioning ultimately leads to greater profitability.  


3. HR Only Acts In The Organization’s Interest


The stereotype:  HR only cares about protecting the organization.  This assertion is especially unfair since HR is chiefly responsible for communicating and implementing organization policies and procedures, and is therefore seen as biased towards management. 


The reality:  The most effective Human Resources Professionals work collaboratively with staff to resolve issues and ensure that employees are treated fairly, while at the same time balancing the organization’s goals.  While their efforts ensure adherence to organization policies, HR Professionals still act as an advocate for employees.


4. HR Operates In Isolation


The stereotype:  HR is seen as autonomous and noncollaborative with other departments.  This myth often originates from the fact that a lot of HR’s work has a classified nature, and thus, it has certain boundaries with other departments to maintain confidentiality.


The reality:  HR cannot, and does not, work entirely alone.  In fact, in order to succeed, HR must collaborate with every department.  World-class HR Professionals work closely with senior leaders, managers, and employees to share information and support the organization’s strategic growth. 


5. HR Is All About Hiring, Disciplining, And Terminating Employees


The stereotype:  HR’s three main objectives are to hire, reprimand, and fire employees.  This fictitious notion largely stems from the fact that most employees only see these obvious roles, and not the true scope and importance of HR’s responsibilities.    


The reality:  There is so much more to HR departments than hiring, disciplining, and terminating employees.  Truth be told:  HR oversees the entire employee lifecycle.  In fact, it is imperative that HR strategically partner in determining how employees are sourced, hired, and managed effectively, while bolstering the organization’s goals, mission, and ultimate success.


6. Human Resources Professionals Are All “People Persons”


The stereotype:  HR Professionals were drawn to the HR profession since they love people and intrinsically want to help them.  This false assumption is based on people incorrectly concluding that most business-minded individuals would never choose HR for a career. 


The reality:  It is actually more important for HR Professionals to see the strategic “big picture” in building a productive and successful workplace.  In fact, HR is all about organizing people within processes to achieve successful results.  The desire to work with people is no doubt necessary, but these professionals need to be up to the challenge of determining how to best develop and mold them to solve organizational challenges. 


7. HR Doesn’t Really Listen To And Take Action On Employee Complaints


The stereotype:  Human Resources simply “processes” employee complaints and does nothing about them.  This misperception often has a lot to do with limited staffing in the HR department to handle the employee grievances or having some complaints not handled well.


The reality:  Human Resources has to be concerned about ALL employee complaints, even the minor ones that originate from simple miscommunication.  The best HR departments conduct fully-documented investigations in order to successfully remedy the issues.  This constructive effort involves actively listening to the employee’s side of the story, such that the employee feels heard.  Furthermore, it is critical for the HR department to follow up with the employees and communicate exactly what actions have been taken and where the investigation stands.


8. Technology Is Going To Replace Human Resources Departments


The stereotype:  HR automation has been growing by leaps and bounds and as such, HR will soon be replaced by technology.  Most of this falsehood is born from the fact that employees who have had digital access to self-service HR support incorrectly think that everything HR does can be automated.


The reality:  Technology is invariably changing HR, but is nowhere near replacing it.  The archetypical HR processes are continually being collaborated and streamlined, so they take less time to complete.  As such, HR is liberated to focus on more strategic tasks, as well as use all of the automation-generated data for better decision-making and problem-solving. 


9. There Is No Real Creativity Within Human Resources


The stereotype:  Human Resources is uninspired and boring, since it is all about administrative tasks and bureaucratic policies.  Again, this misconception stems from a view of HR that is limited to what it produces, and not what it does behind the scenes. 


The reality:  It has never been more important for HR to foster creativity, especially due to:  the continuous change happening in the domestic and world economy, heightened global competition, and workplace flexibility. 


10. You Don’t Need Any Special Skills To Go Into HR


The stereotype:  Anyone can do HR.  HR people are usually people who could not get a job in operations, sales, or marketing.  HR has not been a profession that people initially planned to go into or pursued as an educational subject, and as such, many HR Professionals evolved into their current HR specializations (e.g. employee relations, organizational development, etc.).


The reality:  In order to succeed as an HR Professional, you need to have very specific skill sets, such as data literacy, business intuition, and a specialization in one or more HR functions (e.g. employee relations, organizational development, etc.).  You must also be accomplished with:  time management, labor relations, HR law and compliance, communication, and people advocacy.  Moreover, the training and development on each of these specializations should be ongoing and never-ending, in order to sustain your status as a top-notch HR Professional. 


11. HR Is A Spoiler Regarding Fun In The Workplace 


The stereotype:  Often labeled as the “Fun Eliminators,” HR is also accused of disciplining employees for making innocent jokes and pranks.  Obviously, this claim derives primarily from the fact that HR is largely responsible for enforcing employee conduct and policy rules.


The reality:  HR Professionals do not want to spoil fun in the workplace.  They also do not want to overly-manage employees’ behaviors and conduct.  They have a passionate belief in helping create an inclusive environment where all employees have fun, feel safe, and are treated fairly. 

Why Is It Imperative To Dispel These Stereotypes And How To Do So:

Of course, there can be some basic truth to the aforementioned stereotypes.  With that said, it is critical for HR to dispel these stereotypes, especially when:

  • They dissuade talented people from pursuing a career in HR.
  • They prevent employees from trusting HR and getting the problems solved. 
  • They obstruct leadership and the organization from reaping the benefits of world-class HR. 

Here are some very useful tips on how HR Professionals and Organizations can counter these HR stereotypes and their adverse effects:

  • Constructively seek out regular and honest feedback from employees about HR.  More importantly, act on that feedback, thereby demonstrating that you are listening to the employees.
  • Make a special effort to increase genuine interactions between employees and your HR department.
  • Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.
  • Clearly explain how HR’s role in Human Capital Management improves talent attraction, talent retention, productivity, and profitability. 
  • Ensure that all employees have equal representation during the conflict resolution process.
  • Strengthen the relationship between HR and all other departments in the organization.  Consider dedicating one HR Professional to each department, which will naturally increase the visibility of HR, as well as instill a feeling of personalization toward each department.
  • Encourage new and advanced skills in:  data literacy, leadership, communication, and any other knowledge areas you are emphasizing.
  • Promote using creativity to discover new ideas and resolutions to problems.
  • Strive to promote HR’s balance between representing the company, while also being an employee advocate.
  • Put the “Human” back into Human Resources by being flexible and compassionate toward both management and the employees.
  • Enthusiastically communicate and celebrate every positive HR initiative and interaction with, and for, employees.  

In closing, do not let any of these outdated stereotypes and misperceptions seed doubt in the value of your HR department and its success.  Conversely, let your managers and employees see the immeasurable support and value HR offers, and just how instrumental it is to strengthen the bond between individuals and the organization’s mission and success.


Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.

Email: kevin@kevinsheridanllc.com