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The Politics of Human Resources
By Chris Banescu - November 14, 2003

In many different types of organizations across the economic spectrum, politically motivated favoritism seems to play a key role in most human resources decisions. Just who gets promoted and who does not, is rarely based on actual performance, experience, and effectiveness of an individual inside an organization, but on the political culture and informal social power structure. Human resources departments have become little more than paper shuffling organizations that refuse to take a stand on any serious employee issues and avoid confrontations at all costs. They are not interested in ascertaining the truth and objective reality of a situation, but rather shy away from anything even remotely "controversial."

Having also taught in multiple MBA programs at various universities for many years, I am still amazed at how common this experience is, and how many of my students confirm encountering the exact same approaches in most of the companies they have worked with and for. It's truly astounding to hear how often politics, pride, self-interest, and self-promotion are the sole guiding principles used by managers in dealing with their human resources.

The heartbreaking aspect of all this is that employees who really need help from their HR departments and look to them for some sort of objective, ethical, and balanced perspectives, will most often wind up sorely disappointed. This is very unfortunate, because not having an "objective" party able to balance the employee-manager situation and prevent abuses, provides the abusive manager free hand to do as he or she pleases without any serious consequences. This kind of political favoritism destroys the morale and motivation of current employees and gives the impression that individuals can act in an uncivil (and even unethical) manner without any repercussions. Repeated "successes" at getting their way in such situations will embolden these unscrupulous individuals and eventually turn them into monsters that have almost absolute dominion over their respective areas. Such an environment is extremely demoralizing and upsetting for those employees who are being mistreated; a hellish situation for everyone.

The tragedy of such scenarios is that some of the best employees in an organization will eventually either stop caring or leave the company. Faced with such unreasonable circumstances employees will act to correct the inequities they see. Individuals will cope with the injustices they observer in one of four different ways: lowered productivity, reduced quality of output, increased absenteeism, or voluntary resignation. All of these approaches are devastating to an organization and all have the potential and ability to gradually destroy a company from the inside.

Employees need to know that a level playing field exists at all times within an organization and that individuals are treated ethically, objectively, and fairly. There cannot be any room for one employee to be singled out favorably or unfavorably based on arbitrary "feelings" or politically motivated reasons. It is vitally important that ethical decision-making is part and parcel of how "things are done around here" and that a company is willing to support, reward, and promote the ethical/responsible employees while simultaneously admonishing the unethical ones. That is how effective and meaningful management and leadership must act to treat all their human resources.

Human beings consider their status in relation to others, so regardless of how well people are being treated they will quickly become dissatisfied and disgruntled if they find out other less qualified or worthy employees receive special treatment. Furthermore, employees also have to see that there are consequences to violating the policy as well as rewards for staying the course in the face of adversity.

Management must you remain as ethical and objective as possible when dealing with the people resources they are responsible for and lead. Employees will respond to that correctness and will appreciate and respect those managers that practice what they preach and also appreciate that superiors must play by the same rules as everybody else.

Individuals in positions of authority and responsibility need to recognize that their employees react to perceptions, not only to reality. Management must be cognizant of that fact and avoid any situations or appearances that may send the wrong message; even if those perceptions might be misinterpreted and wrong. This is important because "a valuable employee who quits for an invalid reason is just as "gone" as one who quits for a valid reason.

Countless organizations are continuously being destroyed from the inside by the political atmosphere that reigns unchecked in their very cores. They suffer the steady loss of many dedicated employees who will either quit or drastically reduce productivity or quality of their work as a direct result of unresolved conflicts and abuses at the hands of unscrupulous managers; individuals who should have been fired by HR many times over. Yet, by following the politically correct and "expedient" courses of action, HR departments are virtually guaranteeing the demise of the very organizations they were meant to help, support, and protect.