Historically, managers and HR teams have a fraught relationship. Managers often perceive HR as the people they hear from when there's a problem, rather than an ongoing support system, and vice versa.
In recent years, organizations have begun to strive for more mutually supportive relationships. However, for this to be successful it’s important to deconstruct the old stereotypes and reframe the manager and HR relationship.
In this article, we share 11 HR stereotypes held by leaders and tips to help reframe them.
11 HR stereotypes
1. Principal’s office
Jacob Pinkham, CEO of In Smooth Waters
“I remember how even ten years ago HR was the ‘scary department.’ If they happen to step out of their office then the whole floor would be shivering in anticipation of a possible, ‘You're all fired!’ But of course, that never happened. HR is so much more than just hiring and firing. This is the department that cares about you, your work-life balance, and your happiness. HR is the beacon of light for many managers.”
2. Firing squad
Ottomatias Peura, Chief Marketing Officer at Speechly
“I once thought of HR as just the hiring and firing wing of the business. While these are functions of HR, the department provides so much more. HR implements our company vision to bring us success. In this sense, HR helps ensure everyone in the organization is staying true to our corporate vision and also performing at their very best.”
3. Red tape
Marie Buharin, Founder of Modernesse
“An old stereotype that managers often have about HR is that they are obstructionists. That HR delays processes such as promotions, transitions, training, and even conflict resolution due to red tape. The most productive relationships occur when all parties can work collaboratively. Communication is key.”
4. Compliance police
Katherine King, Founder of Invisible Culture
“Many assume that all HR does is make sure people get paid and comply with the rules. But we now have the data, research, and stories to understand how HR contributes to the efficiency of organizations. Those who recognize that HR can support individuals, teams, and leaders within organizations with a vast bookshelf of knowledge, tools, and support modes, are the ones to benefit from continual growth. Human resources can provide vital coaching programs so leaders can adopt new competencies in a progressive way. HR is essential in building equitable and inclusive organizations.”
5. The critic society
Hemalatha Parupudi, Associate at InterviewBuddy
“It is a misconception that HR is just there to enforce rules. Effective HR departments strike a fine balance between the needs of employees and the goals of the organization. The HR role requires both inter and intrapersonal skills. Their main responsibility is to ensure the smooth functioning of the organization.”
6. Guidance counselors
Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding
“In the past, I thought of HR managers like high school guidance counselors – where employees are sent when their attitude or behavior is mismatched with the organization. This perspective held me back from seeing the true potential of HR. HR managers aren’t guidance counselors, they are team builders. They help establish the company culture and teamwork that supports the work of managers in achieving their goals.”
7. Fun police
Alex Azoury, Founder & CEO of Home Grounds
“Early in my career, HR was seen as the fun police. It created an "us versus them" mentality, so people often didn't approach HR when they should. Now, I try to include HR in company-wide activities and socialize with them to build trust and a rapport, rather than making them this scary group of people who could punish you. It is better for everyone if we have strong HR relationships so we can all feel safe and informed in the workplace.”
Malte Scholz, CEO and Co-Founder of Airfocus
“I used to prioritize tech-savvy HR managers over the ones who were incredibly empathetic and supportive. I quickly realized that the role of HR isn’t just about evaluations and statistics – it’s about developing strong relationships with employees and getting to know them better as people. If workers feel connected and understood, they will give their best.”
9. The company mouthpiece
Jenna Carson, HR Manager at Music Grotto
“The old stereotype with HR was always that they are just there to protect the company, make sure every box is ticked, and every form is filled. As the emphasis on employee wellbeing has increased, HR has proven to be very supportive and keen to work with managers to look after employees’ physical and mental health, as well as the company.”
10. Cost center
Dmytro Okunyev, Founder at Chanty
“It took me a long time to hire my first HR employee because my stereotype was that the HR department just spends money instead of making money for the company. I quickly realized that HR can help us optimize our processes, find opportunities for growth, resolve ongoing problems, constantly look for potential talent, and much more.”
Bilawal G., Content Manager at The Fashion Jacket
“There are still many managers who see HR as an outsider. Oftentimes managers start working around HR professionals instead of working with them. To increase productivity, HR and managers should work in harmony with each other. Gone are the days when HR professionals were merely personnel professionals. They are now an integral part of any business as they cultivate an environment of trust and collaboration. ”
Strengthening HR and manager relationships
With the right approach, HR has the power to be managers’ biggest advocates and managers have the power to drive HR initiatives forward in a way that benefits the entire workforce.
Consider the following quick wins to help strengthen HR and manager relationships:
Invest in HR business partners: Dedicate specific HR representatives to work closely with individual teams.
Have regular 1-on-1s: Connect regularly with managers to ensure alignment with HR initiatives.
Invest in learning and development: Help managers (and their reports) gain access to growth opportunities.
Survey, survey, survey: Identify key areas of impact by surveying managers and their reports.
As your organization adopts a new mindset around HR and manager relationships, your team will start to redefine HR. Rather than seeing the old stereotypes, HR will become known as the glue that aligns individuals with company values, a system to support managers through difficult situations, enablers of growth, and strategic culture partners. With the right approach, strong HR and manager relationships have the potential to drive widespread alignment, engagement, and performance.