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Accidental HR Errors Frontline Managers Are Making

HR errors are costly, usually preventable, and the responsibility of every management team member from lead to CEO. These errors are made, more often, by frontline managers because they did not receive adequate training on the basics of management and employment law.  

Common (But Accidental!) Errors Made by Managers  

Graphic Showing One Employee Gossiping Other EmployeeMistakes made by managers can be quite costly to    the organization. They’re detrimental to employees, and they can seriously harm the manager’s reputation and career potential.  

These 20 common HR errors are made, not in HR,     but by many managers who haven’t been adequately trained and/or held accountable for their managerial responsibilities to the company and its employees.   

  • Over-promising when recruiting can result in disappointment related to compensation, benefits, development opportunities, job scope, eligibility for rapid promotions, culture, and more. 
  • Failing to properly train or provide resources to new hires and other employees. A manager’s job includes enabling employees by giving them what they need to do the work. If managers bog employees down and don’t adequately resource them, they’re disabling performance. Don’t forget: time is also a resource that employees need to succeed. 
  • Defaulting to authority rather than leveraging influence and educating employees. “Do it because I said so” is uninspiring, unsustainable, and the sure sign of a weak manager. Employees deserve to know why and how the work should be done. They’ll be significantly more engaged when managers lead with heart-and-soul vs. command-and-control.  
  • Not delegating or delegating poorly impairs trust, unfairly limits employees, and keeps managers from doing the job of leading people (because they’re mired in day-to-day tasks that others could or should be doing). Want to learn more about effective delegation? Register for this free course on People First Leadership Academy? 
  • Blaming “problem employees” when the real problem is a lack of clarity about what’s expected. Ever notice how the same managers seem to have all the “problem employees”? Maybe the problem is in the manager’s outlook and understanding about what it means to manage well. 
  • Withholding feedback that would help employees course correct and feedback that would buoy employees’ spirits when facing a significant challenge. Constructive feedback and positive feedback should be part of every employee’s experience. They count on getting this feedback from their managers. Without it, they flounder and can become disenfranchised. 
  • Hoarding power and not including others in decisions that affect their work. Some managers think it’s their role to be the problem-solver. They condition employees to bring every problem, big or small, directly to them for answers. Instead of building business acumen and autonomy, they create unhealthy dependencies. 
  • Over-sharing and not maintaining confidentiality related to employee status, pay, needs, disciplinary actions, management-level discussions, and the like. 
  • Acting unilaterally instead of engaging HR to ensure uniformity when addressing employee concerns or handling violations of company policies. 
  • Incorrectly interpreting benefits and eligibility, policies, payroll norms, and complex people practices. No one expects managers to have all the answers. It’s far better for managers to refer employees to HR when questions arise. 
  • Maintaining buddy status vs. being the boss. New managers – especially those who are promoted to manage their former peers – often opt for a friends-first and “just one of the gang” approach. It usually backfires.      
  • Treating people like job titles rather than treating them like people. Taking a clinical, impersonal approach to management isn’t effective either. Every employee is, first, a human being. They don’t compartmentalize themselves when they come to do their jobs. Managers shouldn’t ignore human emotions, life outside the workplace, and the uniqueness of each individual. Of course, there’s a balance to strike here because managers also shouldn’t be buddies and shouldn’t act parentally. 
  • Looking the other way when employees under-perform, are habitually late or often absent, treat others disrespectfully, have a negative attitude, or otherwise compromise team effectiveness. Problems like this don’t resolve themselves. The longer they go unchecked, the harder it is to course correct. 
  • Doing the frontline work rather than managing and leading. Without training and clear expectations about what managers are supposed to do, most will stay in their comfort zone and continue doing the work they did before they were promoted.   
  • Tolerating inappropriate behavior like harassing, bullying, belittling, gossiping, dressing unprofessionally, discriminating, excluding, touching, plagiarizing, and interfering with others work or positive mental state.  
  • Setting a poor example. People pay attention to what managers say and do. Actions speak louder than words. Managers should strive to be role models for others to emulate. 
  • Taking sides in a dispute between employees will impair team cohesiveness and invite accusations of favoritism. Rather than choosing sides or mediating disputes, managers should set expectations for employees to resolve their differences and focus getting the job done.  
  • Not documenting conversations related to employee performance or policy violations. A lack of documentation weakens employers’ defenses when situations escalate and become legal matters. Relying on memory, post facto retellings, and vague recollections rather than details documented in live time is unfair to everyone involved.  
  • Neglecting to pay overtime, allow mandated breaks, or provide a safe working environment. Employees have rights. Those rights are not violable, no matter how short-staffed, busy, or pressured the employer may be. Managers must enforce compliance with these policies, even when employees are willing to forego their own rights. 
  • Failing to provide accommodations as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A manager need not understand or agree with the reasonable accommodations that are medically necessary for an employee’s well-being.   

It’s Not Just HR Who’s Responsible for HR Errors

In the examples above, individual managers are responsible for the choices they make. Organizations are responsible for hiring and training managers so that these errors will be avoided. 

The HR Department should maintain responsibility for making sure ALL managers receive training, updates, and guidance about the errors that can hurt people and damage the business. When HR develops and delivers training across the organization, you’ll create accountability and reduce the likelihood of such errors. 

Some start-ups, small businesses, and organizations that strive for a “family feel” opt not to create formal policies, procedures, and training. They assume the best of people and optimistically believe that problems between people would never occur. When the HR department is small, non-existent, or staffed by people who don’t have HR education or experience, problems may go unnoticed or may not be taken as seriously as they should be. 

Whether it’s a large organization with a sophisticated HR function or a small organization with little or no HR department, every manager bears some responsibility for the kinds of errors that land employers in a courtroom. 

It’s worth noting that managers can also be held liable in some kinds of lawsuits. Although this can vary by state and circumstances, managers who want to protect themselves should be especially vigilant about denying employees their rightful protections in the workplace. Every manager should know about the:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Equal Pay Act
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
  • Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act

Managers can also be held personally liable when they exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Intentionally inflicting emotional distress
  • Sexual harassment (including allowing it from other employees)
  • Assault and battery
  • Withholding overtime pay
  • Intentionally interfering with contractual rights
  • False imprisonment
  • Slander and libel
  • Conspiracy to violate the legal rights of employees

In addition to all the legal and protective reasons for managers to avoid making these HR errors, it’s just the right thing to do. Treating people well is what every employer, manager, and HR team member should be aiming to do. Usually, the culprit for treating employees poorly is a lack of awareness and understanding.

Managers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know 

The problem isn’t that managers intentionally violate company policies or laws designed to protect employee rights. More often, the problem is that managers make poor choices because they simply don’t know any better.  

The only way to fix that problem is to train and frequently update the management team in these 10 topics. All managers (leads, supervisors, directors, VPs, etc.) should understand these basics. Because employment law – especially at the state level – changes so frequently, HR should stay on top of significant changes and keep the management team fully informed. 

Sexual Harassment isn’t a one-and-done workshop. Don’t assume that everyone knows the boundaries and can exercise good judgment. The scope of protections includes more than unwanted advances! 

Hostile Work Environment is a term that’s bandied around too casually. That makes it easy to dismiss if you hear it too often or improperly used. Though often used in conjunction with charges of sexual harassment, this term is broader and encompasses words and actions that severely hinders an employee’s ability to do their work. 

Unconscious Bias is often the root cause of favoritism, unfairness, ill-informed decisions, and overlooking contributions from all team members. Creating awareness and challenging managers who may, inadvertently, operate with unconscious bias is very important in any organization. To learn more, register for the free workshop, Unconscious Bias Alert, on People First Leadership Academy.  

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion awareness and initiatives help to make every employee feel valued, heard, recognized, and included. 

Company Policies and Procedures need to be visible in the day-to-day actions of managers. They’re no use if they’re merely words in the employee handbook.

Recruiting, Hiring & Termination Standards must be consistently applied across an organization.  

Performance Management & Progressive Discipline should also be consistent and in alignment with company policies and values. 

Technology Use and Cybersecurity Precautions can’t be left up to HR and/or IT. 

Soft Skills are every bit as important as functional/technical skills for managers. Communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and other soft skills merit continual development. To learn more, get The Ultimate Guide to Soft Skills for Managers. 

Managing Work AND Leading People will improve employee engagement and managerial effectiveness. Managers need to know that they are expected to perform both parts of the job. 

To boost managerial effectiveness and minimize the risk of HR errors made by managers, check out the Workplace Conversations course, available in three different formats:

  1. Self-paced, eLearning course with 13 modules, engaging videos, quick reads, and takeaway tools. Certificate program is backed by access to an instructor. 
  2. Open enrollment workshops are offered quarterly. These live sessions are virtual and meet twice each week for 6 consecutive weeks. Peer learning and highly interactive sessions are supplemented by 1:1 coaching calls. 
  3. Customized delivery for your supervisor team of 6+ people. Virtual workshop series is available in English or Spanish. Sessions are highly interactive with examples and role plays related to your team’s industry and function.CTA_Logo_PFLA WPC Live_030923