Common Mistakes New and Seasoned HR Managers Make and How to Learn from Them

professional skills

No one ever said being a manager is easy, and HR managers have their own slate of issues and problems to deal with. The following list contains a number of common mistakes that managers make and what you can do to overcome any missteps.

Being a Manager

As the old axiom goes, nobody's perfect. HR professionals are no exception to this rule, as managers both old and new make mistakes on a regular basis. Whether it's your first year on the job or you've been around for several decades, you're going to mess up, and that's perfectly acceptable.

What's not acceptable, however, is refusing to learn from your mistakes and repeating them. To help you get a head start, here's a rundown of some of the most common mistakes that HR managers (young and old, fresh and veteran) make, and what you can do to rebound if you make them.


The Mistake

This sin is committed by managers in all fields, not just human resources. As a detail-oriented leader, it's only natural to want to keep an eye on everything, but all too frequently, people take things too far. Examples of micromanagement include a refusal to delegate tasks, insisting that employees use specific language in emails, and demanding constant updates on a project.


Micromanagement presents two major problems. One, it's bound to annoy your employees. Having a manager constantly hovering around and requesting changes makes it look like you don't have faith in your employees and can be a major distraction. Second, it makes your job more difficult because instead of focusing on your duties, you're spending your time worrying about other tasks that your employees are supposed to be handling.

The Solution

Ultimately, micromanagement stops when you can learn to trust your employees completely. Having faith in your team makes it easier to step back without having to worry about things falling apart. Remember, these are competent professionals; they work for your team for a reason, and they all possess unique skills and perspectives that bring something new to the table. Let them do their job, and they will make yours easier in turn.

Lack of Written Policy

written policy

The Mistake

On the flip side of the coin, managers are also guilty of providing too little oversight, particularly when it comes to written policies. Whether it's employee sick leave, vacation time, or any other policy dictated by the HR department, failure to provide clear, written instruction can lead to a whole slew of troubles.

Leaving things open to interpretation creates a pattern of inconsistency that is sure to antagonize employees. You also leave yourself open to a number of legal and ethical issues, as a lack of written procedure makes you more likely to be a liability in the event that there is an issue.

The Solution

Write things down! Whether you're working for a massive corporation or a small firm, there's no excuse for not having written policies.

This isn't a tough one to figure out, fortunately. While the other items on this list have solutions that are harder to define, the trick to solving a lack of written policy is easy enough. Keeping a written record is an essential part of human resources planning.

In this situation, it's better to err on the side of caution. Better to have what feels like an excessive amount of rules than to have too few. Plenty of companies and employees have gotten into trouble because of poor communication, but very rarely has any manager ever had an issue due to employees understanding things too well.

Getting Too Involved in Your Employees' Personal Lives

friendly boss

The Mistake

If you've ever had a difficult boss who seemed intent on making your life difficult, you may have made a promise to yourself to never be that kind of leader. Instead of being a fire-and-brimstone dictator, you want to be the kind of boss who is seen as just another one of the guys, so to speak.

The flaw in this line of thinking is that once your employees begin to see you as a friend, you lose at least a part of your authority. They certainly won't immediately start ignoring you, but it will be harder to enforce disciplinary measures and run a tight ship when your workers think of you as a companion instead of a superior.

The Solution

While labor relations is part of the job for HR, it doesn't necessarily translate to life outside the office.

Hard as it may seem, you're going to need to distance yourself in order to be an effective leader. This doesn't necessarily mean that you can't be friendly with your team, it just means that you shouldn't be going to happy hour on Fridays after work. It's entirely possible to have a congenial relationship without being close friends.

Establish clear boundaries with your team in terms of where your personal relationship with them starts and stops. Telling vacation stories is an example of something that's acceptable while going on a bar crawl is something that you probably want to avoid. Set these limits early and you'll be sure to avoid confusion and awkward situations down the line.

Playing Favorites

The Mistake

Another misstep that managers in all fields make involves favoring certain employees over others. While it's a good idea to figure out which employees are the most competent, showing bias has a clearly detrimental effect on the office.

Displays of favoritism can drain employee morale when your workers see their boss showing a preference for others. This can create resentment and jealousy, both of which are guaranteed to create a negative office mood.

The Solution

Whether it's based on work performance or just general behavior, it's only natural to like some of your employees more than others. That said, it's not an excuse for you to give these employees preferential treatment. As a manager, you need to maintain a professional demeanor and prevent your personal feelings from encroaching on your ability to manage your team.

Find subtle ways to delegate work that keep the bulk of responsibility with your best employees without making it look like you're ignoring the rest of the team. Group projects are a great productivity booster, and with any luck the work habits of your better employees will rub off on your less-reliable staffers.

Messy Firings


The Mistake

Even if you follow every item on this list perfectly, it's no guarantee that things will always go smoothly. Part of being a manager involves having to terminate employees who are not fulfilling the duties required of their position.

While firing someone is a situation that is bound to create uncomfortable feelings, it can also lead to legal troubles if you don't do it right. In their list of the five most common lawsuits against businesses, The Balance had wrongful termination in the top spot.

If you're getting ready to let an employee go, you'll need to know what mistakes to avoid before you go into the meeting.

The Solution

Every termination is going to go differently, but here are a couple of helpful tips that should serve you well no matter what the situation is:

  • Bring another supervisor in the room: Having a witness on hand prevents things from turning into a 'your word versus theirs' situation in the event of a lawsuit.
  • Take notes: Put together a memo after the conversation and detail everything that was said by both parties. If you haven't picked up on it by now, documenting everything is crucial.
  • Know the rules: If you're not quite sure what exactly constitutes a wrongful termination, this course offers a refresher to keep you up-to-date.
  • Stay strong: If you're a kind-hearted person, you may be inclined to offer sympathy or condolences. Resist this urge; you need to remain steadfast and remember that this person is being fired for a reason.
  • Keep it quiet: After the deed is done, use discretion when speaking with your team. There's no need to give them a complete rundown; simply tell them that the employee in question is no longer with the team. Detailed explanations will only fuel gossip and spread rumors.

As we discussed earlier, no manager has ever gone through their career without making a mistake. You're bound to commit a few errors, but that's no reason to get discouraged! Remember these tips, keep at it, and you'll come out of your predicament wiser and more experienced.

By Bill Sands
February 2018
professional skills hr professional developmen

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