3 Things That HR Professionals Should Stop Apologizing For

Sorry apology

Fast Company magazine recently had an article titled “3 Things Professional Women Should Stop Apologizing For,“ which were:

  1. Their financial expectations (I.E., pay us the same!)
  2. Their physical appearance (I.E., Sorry we aren’t club ready – I was up with a sick kid all night!)
  3. Their professional accomplishments (I.E., Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t brag about what I do great!)

Things to stop apologizing for

It’s a great article, and this got me thinking about all things we “Apologize for in HR that we should stop apologizing for,” so here’s my Top 3 Things HR Pros should stop apologizing for:

  1. You getting fired! Oh boy, this could be #1, #2 and #3! I can’t tell you how many HR folks I’ve trained over the past 20 years that I’ve specifically said, “When you let this person go – don’t apologize!” I mean truly, what are you saying? — “I’m sorry you are terrible at your job, or made the decision to sexually harass your co-worker – you’re fired!” When you really think about it, it sounds funny.
  2. You not getting promoted. This is almost the same as apologizing for getting fired. Instead of apologizing to someone for not getting promoted, how about you give them a great development plan so they can actually get promoted? Organizations can be big hairy breathing things; sometimes decisions are made and you won’t know the reasons. HR Pros shouldn’t apologize for you not getting promoted — but they should help you navigate the political and organizational landscape.
  3. You not liking your boss, your job, your pay. Ugh! We tend to apologize for all these personal “happy” choices a person makes. The last time I checked, I never forced anyone to take a job, or forced them to accept the pay I was offering them, or forced them to work in the occupation or career they chose. These are their own personal choices; if you don’t like it — LEAVE! Go be happy somewhere else. I hope that you’ll be happy here, but I can’t force you to be happy. I’ll try and give you a solid leader, with good pay and challenging work, but sometimes what I see as solid, good and challenging might not meet your expectations. That’s when you need to make a happiness decision!

And 2 things you CAN apologize for

So, what should you apologize for a HR Pro?

I can think of two things that I apologize for on a regular basis:

  1. Things I can control (If I control it, and I screw it up, I need to offer you an apology);
  2. Surprises! (I might not be able to control surprises, but they suck when it comes to business and your livelihood. I apologize for surprises because in HR it’s my job to make sure those don’t happen to you as an employee).

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

  • hrfishbowl

    i think the last two should be tattooed on every HR professional’s bottom. thanks, tim. great list.

  • Gdesimone

    For the first two items on the list, should’t the direct supervisor be handling those conversations. Particularly, the conversations on promotions. That is a great opportunity to clarify expectations.

    • Tmm04

      Yes, and perhaps the supervisor did talk to the employee.  I find that whenever an employee is unhappy with what they’ve been told or the conversation wasn’t handled well, they end up in my office.

  • Claudia Nicholl

    Very good points. Unfortunately, if you stick to the ‘don’t apologize’ items you are often seen as ‘hard’ and non-sympathetic. The gap between of what employees perceceive HR is supposed to do and what it is actually responsible for is still very big.

  • Tmm04

    Great column, thanks for putting this out there.

    #1 – This is one of my pet peeves.  I absolutely agree we shouldn’t apologize for firing someone and have always made a point of coaching the manager about NOT saying they are sorry when they conduct the termination meeting.  I even write it into the script I give them.  
    #2 – I agree!  Some straight talk with the employee about their competencies and how they fit into the company is far more productive than saying I’m sorry you didn’t get the promotion. That conversation in conjunction with some coaching on how the person is ultimately responsible for their own career and how to put together their own development plan, is a more helpful conversation.
    #3 – On the odd occasion, I even told the employee that perhaps they might want to consider searching for a position to which they are better suited.  I find in most cases an unhappy employee is rarely efficient and effective so sometimes the company and the employee would be better off if they left.
    Tim, you are right on when it comes to what to apologize for.  My only other comment about surprises is that sometimes I’m surprised too! (I hate it when management makes decisions without letting me know in advance). But nonetheless, I can still apologize.