Never Trust HR and Other Workplace Tips for Millennials

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One of my favorite Millennials is graduating from college next month, and it occurs to me that he, like millions of others from the so-called Godless Generation, could benefit from some sage counsel before entering the workforce.

So while the world may view us crusty Gen-Xers as all but done, holding on for dear life while awaiting our sure and inevitable Millennial takedown (or is it shakedown?), I say “Bah! You’ve still got lots to learn from us, kids.”

For example…

Follow instructions

Getting ahead at work is nearly impossible if you can’t follow instructions.

I don’t care how much you know, how brilliant you are, or how much experience you have, following instructions is key to getting — and more importantly, keeping — a job. There’s a time for creativity, breaking the rules, and deviating from what’s expected, but most likely that’s not at the beginning of a brand new job in a brand new career.

And if you don’t understand the instructions, PLEASE don’t pretend you do. Instead, ask clarifying questions. (And if you don’t know what a clarifying question is, do the research.)

Respect your boss

Offering respect to someone respectable is easy. Offering respect to someone decidedly NOT respectable is a real feat, but there’s not a whole lot to be gained by demonstrating contempt for your boss.

So unless it’s a matter of psychological, physical, or financial survival:

  1. Don’t violate the chain of command;
  2. Don’t ignore directives; and,
  3. Don’t talk fresh.

Respect yourself

Now is as good a time as any to learn how to stick up for yourself as well as for what’s right.

In addition to providing financial security, work is a source of satisfaction, purpose, and identity for many. Work is good.

However, the workplace can be an incubator and a haven for all manner of human wickedness and dysfunction, so prepare to be tried and tested while resolving to gather from each trial additional strength, resilience, moral clarity, and emotional intelligence.

Practice being a good judge of character

How well you fare at work will in large part come down to how well you judge character. In whom will you place your confidence?

Choose poorly, and you’ll pay the price. Choose well, and you’ll reap the rewards.

Correctly discerning character takes time, patience, and a willingness to accept people as they prove themselves to be. Someone who claims good character but who lies, is manipulative, or appears uninterested in the Law of Reciprocity should be judged by his actions, not his words. And speaking of which …

Use your words responsibly

Words have weight and power. Use your words to edify, educate, and entertain but don’t use them to hurt.

Don’t engage in vicious gossip, don’t tell fibs, and don’t say mean and nasty things just because you can. And for God’s sake, use a Spell Checker! It’s amazing how many employees don’t bother with that today. Your work will stand out if you do.

Pay attention

Pay attention, and you’ll go far. Study people. Take the time to understand why most of us do what we do, and you’ll be an empathetic and inspiring leader, no matter your official title.

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On a more practical note, paying attention will also enhance your ability to quickly pick up new tasks, which any good manager will appreciate.


Do that thing other people won’t and you’ll gain favor, self-insight, and new skills.

And here’s the thing about skills: You can build on them, and no one — no matter how determined — can ever take them away from you.

Don’t let the haters get you down

The brighter your light shines, the more some joker will want to take you down.

Who knows what motivates these hateful spirits, and who cares? The point is to not let them cause you to doubt your ability, sincerity, or intentions.

Smile, stay on path, and determine to let the haters choke on their own venom, if that’s what they want.

Never trust HR

And one more thing — never trust HR.

Right now the profession is in quite a flux, and it’s full of people who simply aren’t very good at their jobs. Sadly, they’re OK with that.

So, don’t ever go to HR expecting to be helped. Go to cover your butt or go to satisfy your curiosity, but don’t go hoping something useful will result, or you’ll be disappointed.

And hey, if something useful DOES result, it’s all gravy! But even so, be sure and run everything by Mom another HR pro you can trust, because she’s the real deal and will always give you the honest answer.

Happy Graduation!

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at


20 Comments on “Never Trust HR and Other Workplace Tips for Millennials

  1. LOL if this is the kind of advice that kids graduating college need before they’re entering the workforce we’re truly and deeply screwed.

  2. My thing with HR that most people, young or old, DON’T grasp is that HR works for the company. They are there to make sure the company doesn’t do things that get them sued. They aren’t here to listen to people whine about perceived unfairness or settle petty disagreements. They will always side with the manager unless the manager is doing something that will get the company sued.

    1. HR will also weigh the likelihood of a which side (Manager or Employee) would have a better case if the company were sued. For example, I had experience in a company that had a department manager (older, black man) who repeatedly verbally abused all of his employees, demeaned them, threatened them and made outrageous untrue allegations, threw things at them. The employees were a mix of young male temps and company employees (Hispanic, White, Asian). The temps were in a tough spot for if they complained, the company would complain to the hiring agency and get that employee blackballed. The others that complained got their complaints thrown out because the way the company handled the formal complaints was to ask the offending manager to look into allegations against himself, which invariably he returned with a statement of no finding. The company was more afraid of a lawsuit from an abusive manager for unlawful termination based on alleged racism, than to deal with the truck load of complaints from everyone else against this manager. So the statement the author made in her article about HR departments being mostly inept is very true. Protect yourself. Keep a daily planner, like a Franklin Covey Daily Planner (I know, old school) and keep notes about your day. For if you ever find yourself in a position where you have to defend yourself against an abusive manager or from an employee alleging you abused them, you have written proof, dates and times and notes to back up your narrative – and that is what wins the case.

  3. It seems people especially young people, believe that professionalism and ethics is corny and being vicious is cool, so employee morale is low. Since young people tend to fear people in power who will ruin their lives for failing to conform, it’s easier to look and act vicious.

    1. Wasn’t that ultimately the message of the author? Kiss your bosses butt and might=right. Pretend to give people what they want to get ahead.

  4. I showed this to our HR director who is a millennial and several managers (both millennials and non). Every person had the same response. Journalistic integrity is at an all time low and the person writing this has no clue what they are talking about. This writer is now a laughing stock.

    1. The HR director will stab you in the back for even daring to bring this up in conversation, not to mention actually reading the article on company time. Enjoy your search for a new job.

  5. This is confusing. The person who wrote this is in HR and
    they are saying not to trust HR. Is this one of those reverse psychology
    tricks? or is this one of those Jerry Maguire moments? Now I really don’t trust

  6. Another HR person trying to be BUDDHA.
    There are talented and untalented people in every profession. To generalize that HR should never be trusted is a poor statement. I have seen HR be the BFF for multiple employees.
    If you are trying to attract people to your blog site for valid, useful information then you have demonstrated this is not the case

  7. Sorry, this one is ridiculous. What, exactly, should millennials “not trust” HR about? We’re not here to make employees “happy,” we’re here to facilitate the employer and the employee getting the most out of each other (and Peggy, we’re not here “to make sure the company doesn’t do things that get them sued;” that’s very 1970s personnel stuff). We’re here to ensure that employees give their best and are rewarded in return. What is it they shouldn’t trust?

  8. Yikes! What about be curious, take risks?…Learn how to fail, and to pivot. Get exposure to leadership. Get involved in your industry, attend events, get as much exposure to thought leaders in your space as possible. Keep learning. Write. Share you knowledge & ideas. Carry a passion for what you do, be tenacious … and your career will take care of itself.

  9. I love this article. It’s great to see some commonsense, practical advice instead of the usual trite nonsense encouraging people to break all the rules and be a visionary…

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