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4 Things HR Is NOT (AKA, Employee Questions You Shouldn't Answer)

4 Things HR Is NOT (AKA, Employee Questions You Shouldn't Answer)

In your HR role, people probably ask you for help or advice about things that are, frankly, not in your job description—and they shouldn’t be.  

What if an employee shared anxieties about not saving enough for retirement, and HR told the employee that investing in certain stocks could help them make extra money to save up faster?  

Or, if a new hire asks which option for health coverage is the best, and their HR professional recommends one plan versus another?   

These questions aren’t asked maliciously, but in your HR position, you hold a certain degree of authority and trustworthiness on business-related topics. So, if you answer these questions and ones like them, employees are more likely to trust your answers. Then, they may make decisions based on your answers that could have negative consequences… and who will they blame? 

Let’s cover the four things HR is NOT so you can better redirect employees when they ask stuff you can’t answer. And hey, knowing this also saves you time—which is something HR Parties of One have in short supply! 

 

 

HR Is NOT a Financial Advisor

In your HR role, you may wear a ‘finance hat’ to handle accounts receivable and payable, update leadership on financial goals, review budgets, track revenue streams, and more. However, that does not make you the person employees should approach for financial advice. 

For example, are employees asking you things like: 

  • Should I invest more in my 401(k)? 
  • Would it be better to deposit half of my paycheck directly into savings? 
  • Does getting a raise mean I can afford to buy a new car? 
  • Should I use my bonus to pay off a credit card? 

Giving financial advice is not part of HR’s job description. And you shouldn’t be giving it. Answering these questions opens you up to potential liability if the employee takes your advice and experiences a consequential financial loss.  

How can you prevent employees from asking you questions about their finances? You can start by setting expectations and redirecting the conversation to prevent similar attempts. Inform the employee that you are not their financial advisor, but they should make a note of their questions and concerns to bring to their financial advisor later. If they persist in asking, deploy one of the best soft skills in your repertoire: non-engagement.  

If your insurance carrier offers employee assistance programs (EAPs), check with your broker to see if yours includes financial assistance because that may be a place you can refer employees as well. If you use a benefits administration system, this information is all hosted within it—many BerniePortal users even provide our HR Party of One episode on EAPs in their system to inform and empower others to use their benefits wisely. 

 

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HR Is NOT a Personal Accountant

While similar to financial advising, it’s important to note the distinction of HR not being an accountant. Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) specialize in how individuals or businesses handle taxes.  

Due to HR Parties of One often managing the taxes at their company, you may be very familiar with complicated tax forms. Employees know this, and when tax season rolls around, and stress hits a high point, they may turn to you for help that you can’t give.  

For example, do employees ask you things like: 

  • How much do you think my tax return will be this year?
  • Did the IRS take too much out of my last check? 
  • What tax bracket am I in? 
  • Can you help me calculate how much I owe in taxes?  

HR is not the in-house accountant employees can seek out at any time. You have more important things to do than advise employees on tax deductions or related topics, and you shouldn’t be helping them with their taxes anyway. You may understand their W-2 due to managing the taxes at work, but it isn’t your responsibility to walk an employee through filling out and filing their annual tax return. 

When employees ask for accountant services, you can redirect them to ask their CPA. You can also direct them to review previous paystubs with their accountant. If you have an HRIS like BerniePortal that provides a robust payroll system, employees can review and download paystubs from their own portal to easily access the information they need to manage their finances. 

 

HR Is NOT a Personal Coordinator

Frequently, employees tend to view HR as their personal coordinator. This is when employees put undue pressure on you to help them navigate life. You have likely experienced this before.

For example, do employees ever ask you: 

  • How does the public transportation system here work? 

  • Where should I park every day?   

  • What app should I use to help me stay on schedule each day? 

  • Should I enroll my child in the public school system? 

New hires may be especially likely to ask these questions, particularly if they are new to the area. However, there are many questions people may ask HR to help them with various parts of their lives. It is not your job to teach people how to take the bus or subway or discuss the merits of the local school system. Coordinating the lives of your employees is a significant burden on your time and energy. Also, no two people have the same needs or opinions, so answering these questions may cause confusion and disagreements. 

HR should have boundaries to prevent entering discussions that could place you on one side of an oppositional topic. If you say the public school system is okay but put your children in private because it’s better, you may offend others who think differently. HR should try to maintain a perfectly neutral stance, and giving advice when asked about these things may negatively impact your standing.  

Redirecting these conversations is tricky because the employee likely means no harm and seeks guidance. You can set up mentors for new hires to turn to for work-related coordination questions, like where to park or their favorite planner. Encourage employees to ask their peers (rather than you) so you remain neutral and gently steer employees toward building better relationships with their colleagues.   

 

HR Is NOT a Benefits Advisor 

Employees may come to you for questions about their benefits during open enrollment. You have a hand in designing a competitive total rewards package, but that is simply the menu you provide for employees to select their own meal. They may need clarification and support on options and see HR as the one with all the answers.  

Have employees ever asked you questions like: 

Guiding employees through making health coverage elections is not your responsibility. While you may feel empathetic toward employees who are concerned about making the best choice for their families and themselves, you have a solution that can keep your employees happy and informed. 

When employees seek advice about their benefits, you should direct them to your benefits broker. If you have a good one, they should have all the answers your people need. It is their job to advise your workforce on health coverage plans. You can also direct employees to speak to their medical professional to understand their health needs. 

Another solution is to use an HRIS that hosts plan documents so your workforce can enter their portal anytime to review health plan information. A self-service HRIS like BerniePortal will allow employees to see these documents, so if they are at home with their spouse trying to make elections during open enrollment, they have access to all the information they need to make a well-informed decision.

 

Additional Resources

You can stay informed, educated, and up to date with important HR topics using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop shop for HR industry news
  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
  • Resource Library—essential guides covering a comprehensive list of HR topics
  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics

  • Community—the HR Party of One Community forum, a place devoted to HR professionals to ask questions, learn more, and help others

 

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