Employee: Can I tell you something confidentially? I don’t want you to do anything, but I just want you to know.
Um, no, actually you can’t. Oh, wait, maybe you can.
HR – sometimes we’re akin to therapists. Yes, you can come in to HR and let off steam about a lot of things – that’s just one of the roles I serve. The workplace can be stressful, especially these days where we’re all trying to do more with limited resources. HR and other managers need to make time available to listen when an employee needs a safe place to gripe.
Let’s explore a few scenarios:
Maybe you’re coming to tell me that you have a job interview next week with a company closer to your home. My philosophy on this is: everyone should have the right to look around and weigh their options. You might ultimately decide that working here is the best spot for you right now. So, yes, you can tell me that in confidence, and I’m not going to “do anything” with this news.
Maybe you’re coming to let off steam about Mary in Purchasing who is crabby and can be a roadblock to getting work done. Yes, you can tell me that in confidence. I have no obligation to “do something” with this news, other than to maybe kick around some coping mechanisms with you or suggest ways you can try to improve your working relationship.
But what if you’re coming to me to tell me that Mary has made a couple of sexually suggestive comments and you’re offended? I can’t promise you that I won’t take action. Why? I have a professional, moral, and legal obligation to take action to investigate this concern in order to protect you and other employees from harassing behavior in the workplace.
So, when you want to speak in confidence and ask me not to tell anyone or do anything about it, I’m going to say maybe. I’ll usually qualify my response with a brief explanation so that you understand why I can’t give you that guarantee until I get an idea of what you’re about to tell me.
But sometimes that conversation can be awkward. It can be difficult to tell an employee “no” you can’t talk to HR in complete confidence.
So, fellow HR professionals, what is your response when an employee tells you they just want you to know something, but don’t want you to act on it? Do you handle it like I do?