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Can HR Protect Employees?

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner , Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Feb 27, 2023

“HR is no match for sexual harassment. It pits male sexual aggression against a system of paperwork and broken promises, and women don’t trust it. For 30 years, we’ve invested responsibility in HR, and it hasn’t worked out. We have to find a better way.”

That’s how Caitlin Flanagan ends her 2019 article ‘The Problem with HR’. The Atlantic story seeks to explain why Human Resource departments had failed meaningfully mitigate workplace sexual harassment and would continue to fail even in a post-#MeToo world. 

What Flanagan found during her research is that HR doesn’t work for one fundamental reason: It exists to benefit the company, not the employee. Here are some good excerpts that I think are just as relevant today as they were in 2019:

“But the real reason many workers don’t love human resources is that while the department often presents itself as functioning like a union—the open door for worker complaints, the updates on valuable new benefits—it is not a union. In a strong job market, HR is the soul of generosity, making employees feel valued and significant. But should the economy change, or should management decide to go in another direction, HR can just as quickly become assassin as friend. The last face you’ll see is Jane’s—your pal from HR, who hands out the discounted tickets to Knott’s Berry Farm and sends the blast emails about Chipotle Friday—and she’ll be dry-eyed while collecting your employee badge and invoking the executioner’s code: COBRA.”

“This is why all of that training—the videos and online courses and worksheets—seems so useless: because it’s designed to serve as a defense against an employment lawsuit. The task force cited a study that found “no evidence that the training affected the frequency of sexual harassment experienced by the women in the workplace.” The task force also said that HR training and procedures are “too focused on protecting the employer from liability,” and not focused enough on ending the problem.”

I don’t think there’s any easy way to fix the problems Flanagan highlights in her article. There are however tools that help ameliorate company culture. One I’ve been hearing a lot about recently is All Voices. 

Here’s how All Voices CEO, Claire Schmidt, describes the technology: 

“AllVoices is an employee feedback management platform that is helping to drive positive change within organizations by giving all employees a way to speak up, provide feedback, ask questions, share positive input, and report harassment, bias, or culture issues directly to their company’s leadership. Through our employee approved interface, AllVoices encourages employees to share their feedback and concerns securely and comfortably. AllVoices’ user-friendly and truly anonymous reporting tool has an encrypted messaging system that builds employee trust. AllVoices collects data in one simple dashboard allowing for easy follow-up, early risk mitigation, tracking progress and resolving reports in one centralized place.”

Basically, All Voices allows employees to anonymously report problems in the workplace, whether they be related to sexual harassment or something else. This takes the onerous off the victim, allowing them to report problems without having to fear embarrassment, or more seriously retribution. A serious problem, like a predatory manager, will likely engender scores of complaints. 

All Voices and other similar technologies are a  start, but again they can’t solve the basic problem that HR is designed to protect the bottom line, not the employee. Is there any hope for reforming HR? 



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Henry Craver's picture
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