The most depressing phrase in HR

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There is a lot of competition for the most depressing phrase uttered by HR professionals, but for me the clear head and shoulders winner is: “it will set a precedent”. Never before have five words said “I’m a lazy git hiding behind a procedure” so well.

Now before the lawyers jump on me and bludgeon me to death with their Rolex coated wrists, there are, of course, genuine issues of legal precedent that need to be considered within organisations. I understand that, however, my completely statistically invalid research shows that this accounts for less than 1% of all utterances. The vast majority are purely the jobsworth nature of the profession.

Most people and, therefore, most employees (because we can’t forget that they’re people too) want to be treated as individuals. We know that there are rules, we know that there is a need for a level of consistency because most of us are fully-formed adults. But we also know that, at times, the rules couldn’t foresee every eventuality.

A real case in point was the Lysses House Hotel recently refusing to refund the deposit for a 50th Wedding Anniversary bash which was cancelled because the wife died some eight weeks earlier. The reason for their position? Their terms and conditions and an inability to offer “preferential treatment”. I know that this is an extreme and we may all tut and frown, but the underpinning thought process is one that is prevalent within our profession. If we say 'yes' to this one, we’ll be flooded with requests.

So, next time you’re about to roll out the “it is our policy” or “it would set a precedent” line, ask yourself this: What is the real motivation for doing so? Are you protecting your organisation, or are you protecting yourself from a little thought and a little extra work?

Maybe, sometimes the system is wrong and the individual is right and we shouldn’t be afraid to accept it.

Neil Morrison is the group HR director of Penguin Random House and a HR magazine blogger.

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