People Leadership

HR Professional or Personal Counsellor? Maintaining Appropriate Workplace Boundaries

March 20, 2019

When Employees Seek Personal Counsel from HR

Employees sometimes look to their organization’s HR department for support when their personal and professional lives collide. Given the nature of the role, it’s understandable that employees become comfortable seeking advice from HR—many HR professionals enter the field because they are ‘people’ people. They care about the well-being of others and want to help employees navigate their professional and personal lives. They want employees to feel comfortable coming forward when they’re experiencing problems, but sometimes it can feel like the employee expects a personal counsellor.

HR’s Role: Support vs. Personal Counseling

Although HR is often an expansive role, encompassing many different functions (and might not even be your only or primary responsibility in your organization), personal counsellor is not part of HR’s prerogative. This can be a problem when you must have a frank conversation with an employee who has confided personal details and now sees you as more of a confidant than an HR professional.

Navigating Difficult Conversations

Having difficult conversations is inherent to the HR role, and it’s inevitable that employees will disclose some personal information to you. Personal issues can influence an employee’s performance and therefore are relevant to the workplace. In these cases, it’s beneficial to have an open enough relationship with your employees for them to come forward with issues affecting their work. However, some employees feel like once you have helped them through a personal issue, such as supporting them through a leave of absence and a subsequent return to work, you are now a confidant.

The Importance of Boundaries

It is important to recognize when an employee needs support and when they just want to chat about their personal lives. An employee spending an hour in your office every day venting about matters unrelated to work (their in-laws, home renovations, and so on) and seeking life advice may become a problem. While it’s important to show employees compassion, you should be cautious when providing employees with advice beyond the scope of the workplace. For some HR professionals, having a relationship with an employee can become an issue when you become privy to information you don’t want to know about, are spending too much of your precious time with one employee, or find yourself in a situation beyond the scope of your position.

Finding the Balance

It’s hard to find the thin line of being too empathetic, but it can be draining and lead to low productivity for both people involved if the line is crossed. Download our FREE Balancing Emotions in HR Guide, which provides guidance on how to tactfully and constructively stop employees from using you as their personal counsellor, and prevent it from happening in the first place.

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