Can an HR Manager Be Too Friendly?

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Practically Speaking is a weekly column that addresses your most pressing business dilemmas. The advice is the opinion of long-time business owner Gene Marks. Send your questions to

I know this may sound very stingy, but my company spends hundreds of dollars each month on a coffee service with all sorts of gourmet coffees, condiments and supplies. Business is slow and I’m looking for ways to cut back. Is it wrong for me to ask my employees to chip in or even stop getting coffee altogether?

In the good old days you had a pot of coffee and one type of coffee called….coffee. Sure, it tasted awful, especially after left simmering for a few hours. Yes, there were often fights over who’s turn it was to make a fresh pot, not to mention the inevitable fire that occurred from leaving the machine on all night. Ah, the good old days.

Now we have 67 different types of coffees and five kinds of sweeteners, not to mention the teas and hot chocolates. They’re all made on these complicated types of machinery that not only make coffee, but can fry an egg and pick up your dry cleaning at the same time. These things come at a price. The cost of providing coffee today is absolutely more than it was back in the day. And for companies looking to cut back on expenses, this is a conversation that comes up more frequently than is often admitted.

Related: Is It Wrong to Charge Different Rates for the Same Service?

But no. You can’t cut out the coffee. And you can’t ask your people to pay for it, especially if you still drive up to work every day in your BMW (and okay, it’s leased – but it’s still a BMW!). Asking your employees to pay for coffee will either make you out to be a cheapskate or potentially start a rumor that you’re heading into bankruptcy – neither of which are good options. Actually, perks like coffee, a free pizza lunch now and then or a surprise batch of donuts do a world of wonder for morale. And they’re less expensive than giving raises. So keep the java flowing – and find some other place to cut back on your expenses. Honda Accords are nice. Just saying.

My human resources manager is a very nice and social person. Too social, actually. She has become very friendly with other people in the company and I know that she sees some of them outside of work at parties or at their homes. No, she is not romantically involved with any co-workers. But, as an HR person, I get concerned that she’s too friendly and this could compromise her job. What do you think?

HR managers hold a very trusted role in an organization, don’t they? You want them to be close with your employees, to keep an ear on the ground and to listen out for concerns and issues. You want your HR manager to be an advocate for your employees and make suggestions about good benefit plans and other ways to attract talent and keep your people happy. But in the end, your HR manager is working for you. Her job is to balance what’s best for the company with what’s best for its employees, who (hopefully) have the same goals.

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Unfortunately, there’s little you can do here. As long as you’re not aware of any inappropriate or unprofessional behavior you can’t tell someone else who she can and can’t socialize with outside of the office. You can certainly talk with her and be frank about your concerns so at least she knows this is on your mind. But in the end you have to leave it to her to be professional and know her boundaries.

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