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Cutting access to HR bad idea

Q. I work for a large nonprofit (300 to 500 employees) that has recently restructured its human resources department. The new policy is that employees are not allowed to contact HR directly.

All requests or questions – including pay issues, benefits concerns and supervisor conflicts – must first go through supervisors and up a multi-level chain of command before HR sees them.

Is distancing and even removing communication between HR and employees a standard practice? We’re all baffled at how this is beneficial.

A. I turned to Steven Miranda, managing director at Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies. As he sees it, your new policy creates three major problems:

1. Increased risk for the company. How can workers safely report harassment if the perpetrators are part of the reporting chain?

2. Mistrust. Employees could infer that management either doesn’t trust HR or doesn’t trust employees to know what issues are worth elevating.

3. Inefficiency. The multiple reporting levels are “bad operational hygiene,” Miranda says.

Miranda sees three possible explanations:

1. If HR lost most of its staff in the restructuring, the policy may be a way to manage workflow.

2. If the department is not competent, management may be avoiding routing important decisions through it.

3. The company may want to make middle managers more accountable and engaged.

I recommend seeking a friendly high-level source who is willing to listen to you explain, using Miranda’s three points, that the policy is bad for the company. This source might be able to communicate that to the higher-ups and convince them that they should communicate their strategy to worried workers.

With luck, you’ll learn that this new policy will be in place only until management finds a high-performing HR leader. But in the absence of such a strategy, the policy sounds, in Miranda’s words, “nonsensical,” “unexplainable” and downright “crazy.”