Lonely in HR?

Maybe this is the problem with anyone who manages people, but I often feel like an island in a sea of co-workers. In HR, we hold so many "secrets" -- confidential information about our co-workers -- that I am reluctant to really make friends at work.I truly honor the confidentiality of others (and we all must!), but I feel that a big part of socializing in the workplace seems to be talking about things that I cannot. This isolates me from nearly everyone.  Does anyone else feel this way? What do you do about it? Is it possible to make friends at work when you are in HR?


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  • For many years I felt the same.  But I have a great boss (President of the company) who wants me more accessible to the employees.  So now, I am constantly out of the production floor do "friendly" things.  Saying "hi", "how are things going?", etc.  It makes me more of a human being to the employees, and I have some people that I can consider as friends.

    As friends, we chat about my children, what we are doing this weekend, what movie we want to see, how UVA is doing at football, etc. If they want to tell me the latest office gossip, I listen but I don't respond.  If they ask me a question that I can't answer, I tell them that I can't answer it.

    At the same time, it is important to develop friendship with someone who has absolutely no connection with the company that you can vent, share experiences with and get advice.

    The biggest caution about your friends within the company is that you want to make sure that your integrity is kept.  Make sure people know that even though you have friends and are a friendly person, there is no compromise on company information.

  • Well that was really weird.  I was typing the answer and my computer went crazy! Ended up posting twice and now it won't let me delete one of the posts. 

    Ah, the joys of the internet! [:)]

  • LadyAnn - the loneliness you describe is, I think, one of the reasons a lot of people "burnout" in HR after 4-5 years.  Personally, I have never been one to socialize with people I work with or to make personal friends with co-workers.  I have found (in my 35+ years of working) that it's much better, and more interesting, to make friends outside of work.   I have some very dear friends that I met through professional associations - other people in HR - so they know what I talk about when we discuss work things.  My closest friends are two people I went to high school and college with - and that's from back in the 1960's.   You can be friendly to people at work without developing close, personal friendships.  There really is a constraint for people in HR - if you are seen as too close to one person, other people will always suspect that you are sharing those "secrets" with your "friend."   That said, I am not sure this problem is restricted to HR people.  What about those first line supervisors?  They aren't regular workers and they aren't quite management, either.  I suspect they feel the same way.  How about the CEO - does he/she "hang out" with subordinates?  My suggestion is to become active in your local chapter of one of the HR professional associations or something like that.   
  • lesley1947, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you can be friendly to people at work without developing close, personal friendships.  The friendships that I have within the company are somewhat "arms length" and not super close.  The one or two people I might have lunch with (and therefore a little closer friendship) are lateral to me on the organizational chart.

    The problem that I have faced in the past with being active in my local chapter of a professional association is that the nearest one is over 60 miles away and they do most of their stuff during the workday.  That would require me to take at least 1/2 day everytime there was a meeting.  (It would take over 90 minutes each way to make the drive.)

  • I have experienced this as well....and it seems that people are constantly trying to get you to divulge info!  I have turned to eating my lunch at my desk. I do feel like I am on an Island as well....but it comes with the job I think.  I was very excited to find this web-site so I could vent!!!!  This is a great site and I intend to continue talking to other HR people...it really helps when someone can say yah I relate to your situation.  Sometimes I get so frustrated and feel I have no one to turn to.  This site helps.

  • I am very up front with people at work that there are a lot of things that I can not nor will discuss with them.  When wanting to know the latest company gossip overcomes the best of them and we have a joke, that "I can neither confirm nor deny" that.  It quitely reminds them that my job is to keep their information private as well. 

    The same goes for the times that they need to vent about the company.  I listen to the venting but do not engage in it.  I also try not to offer advise about it either, as at that time I am being their friend not their HR person.  If they want to make it more formal, I will offer advise or take complaints to the next level.  It's a fine line, but one I think can be managed if you are up front about your role in the company. 


  • This is a very common thing in the HR field.  I have had a few very good friends at work, but they knew that I couldn't discuss certain things.  If they are really your friend, they will understand this restriction.  You do have to be cautious about being said to "tell all" to your friends.  One big battle that I faced was my mentor and boss in HR was let go.  We were also friends.  I went through a lot of trials to prove that I was still remaining confidential and true to the company and not sharing secrets with my friend and former boss.  One of the best things is we have other divisions at my company with other HR personnel, so I can call on of them to discuss items.  I also belong to the local chapter of SHRM so I can network with other HR professionals.  This has been helpful.  I also have friends outside of work and the HR field.  My biggest source of comfort, though, comes from my husband.  I can tell him anything and know that it won't go any further.  He works for the police department, so he understands the need for confidentiality.  Don't get too discouraged.  Branch out and find others to visit with.  You may never have great buddies at work, but that's okay.  As long as your relationships at work are friendly, you should be fine.  Hang in there.
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