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Words and Phrases That Can Ruin Your HR Career—and Fast!

written by: •edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 3/28/2012

Human resource professionals love their jobs but they lead a rough work life. Employees complain, the benefits are never enough, and business owners look to them to “fix" the often unfixable. You can become unsympathetic quickly and may be guilty of using these 10 no-no words and phrases.

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    10 Words to Doomland

    The Trail to HR Doomland A CBS Money Watch story by Robert Pagliarini called “7 Deadly Words You Should Never Use If You Want a Better Life" prompted me to think about HR professionals and how the words they choose can land them in a place of no return—Doomland, I like to call it. I’ve thought of ten words, in fact, and if you are an HR professional (which I studied for in college and was for many years) and you find yourself using these words often, perhaps you’re a little burned out.

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    1. No One’s Ever Asked Me That Before

    Never say this if an employee poses a query you don’t know the answer to—or worse to your boss. Not only does this make you sound incompetent, it reveals you as an uncaring HR person. Not because no one’s ever asked you a certain question before, but because the message you are conveying by using these words is the question is stupid and is a waste of your time.

    Instead, it’s okay to admit you don’t have the answer at hand, but you will get back to the person ASAP.

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    2. Did You Even Read the Employee Handbook?

    HR Frustration Very often, HR professionals love to use these words when responding to a question they think is easily accessed via a thorough reading of the company’s employee handbook. Guess what? Not everyone deciphers the handbook line by line and these words make you appear mean and uncaring.

    Instead, revamp your new hire orientation program and take the time to go through each section of the handbook (if your company is small enough) or create a PowerPoint presentation covering the highlights. Afterward, hold a Q&A session.

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    3. That's a Poor Excuse

    These words are used in a number of circumstances such as when an employee calls off sick or asks for personal time off. They are also used when an employee offers a response to a question from you—say during review time. Why not just take a bat and hit the question-asker over the head? Sure, you may have a problematic employee who does abuse company policy but allowing that abuse to get the better of your professional nature is a bad thing to do.

    Instead, delve deeper into the issue but don’t get too personal. Ask if you can help in any way. Ask if there is anything the company can do to solve the problem at hand.

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    4. You’re Pregnant Again?

    Are You Pregnant Again Believe it or not, in my career, I’ve heard HR folks use these words and not in a good way like, “Congrats! You’re going to have a new addition!" In the back of your mind, you’re probably thinking about the Family Medical Leave Act or how much sick, personal and vacation time the employee has accrued to date, but you are not conveying warm congratulations to the employee.

    In fact, if I were expecting a new bundle and an HR professional presented these words to me, I could be inclined to sue and no HR department wants to deal with an employee lawsuit. Actually, if you have an employee who strives to be Octomom, that's not your business.

    Your professional world is all about the employee so use some common sense here. Tell the employee to take a seat and go over what benefits are available to them and cover when and how they need to use them.

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    5. If You’re Late One More Time—You’re Fired

    You’re not Donald Trump and this isn’t reality television. This is a verbal threat and should be taken as such by the employee. If you have a repeat offender, then instead of threats, use employee warning forms to document the tardiness problem.

    When the employee has received an appropriate amount of documentation, sit down with the employee, discuss the problem, and decide if you need to terminate them. Remember, prior written warnings will have offered they may lose their job so they already know it. You don’t have to threaten the action by verbalizing it.

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    6. I’ll Do it For You This Time but It’s Really Not My Job

    It's Not My Job Let’s say an employee ask you for help on understanding if the company’s healthcare plan will cover a certain medical issue. Or, maybe the lost employee still hasn’t fully digested how the online time sheets work. The scenarios for using these words are endless and you know what—it is your job to aid employees—even if they do ask question or ask for help repeatedly.

    Take the overworked look off your face and help the employee. Don’t rush through the help and maybe in the future, the employee will understand what it is they need your help with.

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    7. We Don’t Take Suggestions

    I’m not a fan of the employee suggestion box because it can bring forth a plethora of silliness or outright bashing. When an employee walks into your office, however, and offers up some idea or another, instead of blowing them off, why not implement an employee feedback forum or focus group to cover desires, wants and needs.

    As an HR professional, you should know engaged employees are productive and happy employees. Placing Band-Aids on their ideas is simply a bad thing to do.

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    8. I Don’t Have Time for You Right Now

    I Don't Have Time for You Wow really? Again, this is essentially telling the employee you aren’t professional and are an uncaring person. Maybe you don’t have time at the moment the employee walks in the HR department, but you either need to make time or set up a real-soon appointment to aid them with their questions or problems.

    Dismissing employees as soon as they walk in the office will sway others from entering in fear of the same reprimand but if that’s really your goal, maybe it’s time for a career change.

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    9. You Were Paid Correctly

    When you use these words, do you even look up from your desk to see what the employee’s talking about when they produce a paycheck? Payroll mistakes are made all the time and to dismiss someone asking you to re-check the paycheck is not only unprofessional, it could be illegal.

    Err on the side of caution here and review the paycheck because maybe there truly was a mistake made and if not, take the time to aid the employee in understanding their paycheck and deductions.

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    10. Your Child’s/Spouse’s Event Is Not Important to the Company

    That's Not Important to the Company Of course, it isn’t but you don’t need to say it out loud. In the days of a tight economy, many employers are cutting back on personal time or disallowing it. However, if personal time off without pay is requested, you don’t need to make it worse by using these words.

    Show some sympathy. Better yet, see if you can talk to upper management and arrange for someone else to cover a shift, or because you are an HR professional, see if you can come up with personal time off plan the company can live with.

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    Fading Away

    For the most part, those of us in the human resource world are there for a reason—we love our jobs, care about employees, and want to make their lives at work and outside of work stress-free, fun and productive.

    If, however, you find yourself using any of these ten deadly words, you’re not being a professional and you need to step back and reassess your role. All is not lost! Network with other HR peers and swap stories of employee doom and gloom because t does help. Find out what others are doing and perhaps you’ll learn some new words to use to make you seem caring, attentive and above all, the HR professional you always wanted to be.

    Are you guilty of dismissing employees or have you used these or similar words and phrases? If so, I’d like to hear from you—especially if you’ve realized your errors and found a great way to change your habits. Drop me a comment and let’s start a discussion!