The 3 Things That HR Should Stop Trying to Apologize For

I think HR Pros apologize way too much.

I got this idea from the Fast Company article 3 Things Professional Women Should Stop Apologizing For, which are:

  • Their financial expectations (i.e., Pay us the same!)
  • Their physical appearance (i.e., Sorry we aren’t club ready – I was up with a sick kid all night!)
  • Their professional accomplishments (i.e., Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I can’t brag about what I do great!)

3 things not to apologize for

It’s a great article, so check it out. This got me thinking about all things we apologize for in HR – that we should stop apologizing for – so here are the Top 3 Things HR Pros should stop apologizing for:

  1. You getting fired! Oh, boy this could be No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3! I can’t tell you how many HR folks I’ve trained over the past 20 years that I’ve specifically said,“When you let this person go – don’t apologize!” I mean truly, what are you saying? “I’m sorry you are terrible at your job, or made the decision to sexually harass your co-worker; you’re fired!” When you really stop and think about it, it even sounds funny.
  2. You not getting promoted. This is almost the same as apologizing for getting fired. Instead of apologizing to someone for not getting promoted, how about you give them a great development plan so they can actually get promoted? Organizations can be big hairy things, and sometimes decisions are made and you won’t know the reasons behind them. HR Pros shouldn’t apologize for you not getting promoted, but they should help you navigate the political and organizational landscape.
  3. You not liking your boss, your job, your pay. Ugh! We tend to apologize for all these personal ‘happy” choices a person makes. The last time I checked, I never forced anyone to take a job, or forced them to accept the pay I was offering them, or forced them to work in the occupation or career they had chosen. These are their own personal choices, so if you don’t like it — LEAVE! Go be happy somewhere else. I hope that you’ll be happy here, but I can’t force you to be happy. I’ll try and give you a solid leader, with good pay and challenging work, but sometimes what I see as solid, good and challenging might not meet your expectations. That’s when you need to make a happiness decision!

Apologize for these two instead

So, what should you apologize for as an HR Pro?

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I can think of two things that I apologize for on a regular basis:

  1. Things I CAN control. (If I control it, and I screw it up, I need to offer you an apology); and,
  2. Surprises! (I might not be able to control surprises, but they suck when it comes to business and your livelihood. I apologize for surprises because in HR, it’s my job to make sure those don’t happen to you as an employee).

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


1 Comment on “The 3 Things That HR Should Stop Trying to Apologize For

  1. Crikey Tim. I think you can still utter the word ‘sorry’ as in ‘regret’. A nice Tolstoy quote said “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him, and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back”.

    I see many hr functions in the same way. To illustrate, I know our organisation puts this standard line at the bottom of ‘those hr letters’ about an employee assistance company that handles counselling.

    To me, it’s a bit the same; “Your terminated.. I know this time is very difficult for you and you should avail yourself of this free counselling service… But your still terminated!”.

    Turns out sorry isn’t the hardest word after all 🙂

    Cheers from

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