When hr management becomes corrupt…

With: Senyo M. Adjabeng
The Workplace Coach.



“Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency.”
- Unknown


Human Resources (HR) Management has come very far as a professional discipline.  HR evolved from Personnel Management which was akin to employee records management and administration.  So that as a sub unit under administration, the personnel management function took care of collating and updating employee’s records, administering employee welfare processes as well as managing attendance leave and other employee related processes.

Personnel Management ensured that employee information and the administration of their work were appropriately catered for.  Compare that to HR management today as a business partner and you realise how vast the differences are.  HR is actually determining or influencing business strategy and direction.  HR is strategically placed in business operations today as a cohort in advising and ensuring that the business achieves its targeted objectives year on year.


With this important role HR is expected to play in organizations today, I shudder to think what will happen when the head of HR operations in an organization is corrupted.  This article is by no means suggesting that HR managers or heads of HR are corrupt – far from it.  This article is just a soliloquy (silent thoughts of a passionate HR Consultant) about what can happen to an organization should the head of HR ever be corrupted or corruptible.


Roles and Relevance of HR

Human Resources Management covers the engagement, retention and development of workers in a job at profit.  The processes undertaken to engage an employee in a job determines the success of that specific job in the entire business structure.  The success of performing that job effectively affects operational efficiency and hence profits.  The failure of the worker in that job also affects other workers and jobs that rely on the worker within other job clusters.  Hence, Human Resources aim at engaging the right people with the right attitude and frame of mind to contribute to service delivery in specific capacities and teams.

Workers engaged must be retained in their jobs.  This ensures continuity in the quality and efficiency in service delivery.  Because employees are an investment, it is always a loss to an organization when they leave.  Right from recruitment, induction, probation and other training and development activities undertaken by the organization for an employee, costs are incurred on the employee.  Hence, when the employee leaves before such investments are recouped it becomes a loss to the organization.

Human Resources also ensure that employees grow with the organization.  That, as the company grows and develops the employee also grows in knowledge, experience and excellence to support the organizational growth.  Companies that develop their employees almost always realise substantial growth in their business operations.  This is because through training and development, employees learn to perform their job tasks in better and more efficient ways with better and newer technology which enhance productivity.

As Human Resources Management practice continues to develop, it is becoming abundantly clear that the function and managers who regulate, control and manage the function can no longer be taken for granted.  This fact is further endorsed as the Human Resources function is positioned more and more as a true business partner for attaining and realizing organizational targets and objectives.  Human Resources policies are changed and adapted to the changing needs of the organization thus making it easier to meet the unique needs of the organization for growth.

With the above pivotal role HR is expected to play in the workplace and the relevance and needs of an organization for HR management in today’s competitive business environment where maximization of resources is the sure route to organizational survival, then the HR professional cannot afford to be corrupt.

What is Corruption?

According to a feature article posted on Ghana web on August 16, 2005, Corruption can be described at three levels – the white level, civil level and everyday level.  The white level corruption is “the corruption lurking in the corridors of sitting governments-over pricing of government contracts, diversion of state funds to fund political activities, misappropriation of public funds etc.  “The civil level corruption is found in the private sector. The last one and the most cancerous one is the everyday level corruption. On this front, we see Police officials collecting bribes from commercial drivers, parents bribing headmasters and headmistresses of the elite schools to get academic placements for their wards”.


A Corrupt Official is like a gagged Professional. They have no conscience, are deliberately blind and cruel.


So what is corruption?  According to Transparency International, (TI) Corruption is operationally defined as the misuse of entrusted power for private gain.  It is interesting how sometimes corruption is directed at some perceptible groups of people such as politicians, the Police, Prisons and CEPS Officials, Judges and Judicial Officers and other Public and Civil Service Officers.  No one seems to look the way of the Human Resources Practitioner who is well positioned to be corrupted.  In a human institution, it is not possible for all people to be perfect and this is where my fear begins.

In the general definition for Corruption, one will always run into the word integrity.  And that is where I believe we can find the universal meaning of what the opposite of corruption is.  It is also time to start looking at what I call HR Corruption as a people.

Some examples of HR Corruption are requests for sexual favours from job applicants in return for a job, acceptance of bribes from Firms in return for Training and HR Consulting contracts, payment or sexual favours for promotions, employee loans, etc and deliberately influencing HR policy through collusion with Trade Unions.

Understanding Conflict of Interest

Anytime an employee uses part or any of the ‘business’ time for his or her own private interest (without permission or approval), there is developed a clear conflict of interest between the employee’s private interest and his/her official responsibility and duty of work.  More so, when an employee misuses entrusted power for private gain, then there is a clear case of conflict of interest.  You see, I believe conflict of interest begets corruption.  And the genesis of corruption is found in conflict of interest.


An employees’ psychological contract with the organization imposes responsibilities and obligations of trust on the employee.  Where this psychological contract is broken, a conflict of interest situation arises.  In light of the above, you will realise that it is insignificant or trivial to consider conflict of interest only in terms of financial gain as is commonly interpreted.  Conflict of interest goes way beyond financial gain.  So let’s explore some other conflict of interest situations.


The first is the Conflict of Professional Goals.  According to the Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651), all employees are duty bound to “work conscientiously in their lawfully chosen occupation”.   Everyone chooses to work for a reason.  When the contract or agreement to work is sealed, employees accept to play their part in doing work assigned to them.  Employees also know why they are working and the results they seek thereof.  When employees begin to act in ways that contrast the standards of their lawfully chosen occupation, there is a clear conflict of professional goals.  This means that the actions or behaviour of the employee contradict their official professional mandate in the workplace.


Then there is Conflict of Integrity.  To act with integrity is to act honestly, openly and in good faith.  When employees act in ways other than honest and in good faith, they breach their psychological contract and create a conflict of integrity.   Conflict of Abuse of position or Authority is another most interesting one.  When you walk into any reception in this country and seek to see the MD or Manager, you will most often go through a gruelling grilling from the receptionist.  If not lucky, you will be refused permission to see the person with little or no explanation.  Many employees use their positions to trample the rights of others or worse still make other’s lives difficult.  When this is the case, the employee will be seeking a personal interest of power instead of the organizations’ interest.


Conflict of Commitment and loyalty is a noble one.  You will be surprised how many employees go to work everyday for any other reason other than commitment to the vision and mission of that organization.  Commitment and loyalty is not induced by more salary as many believe.  It is a conscious choice of commitment to work in whatever situation or environment.  An employee commits and pledges loyalty as soon as s/he signs that contract of employment.  In the eastern nations of Japan, China, Singapore, Korea etc, work is a choice and an honour.  In Ghana however, it is a means of survival.


Conflict of financial interest is the most common conflict of interest situation we are conversant with.  Yet, it is the least dangerous.  When someone chooses money over a Company, it is only normal and easy to deal with.  But when employees choose not to be committed to the ideals of that Company, abuse their position and authority and act without regard to the interest of the organization real money is lost and that is a real problem.


So what happens when the Head of HR becomes corrupt?

I don’t have all the answers.  But this I know, that organization is in real trouble.  The earlier such behaviour is detected and rectified the better because the effect of a corrupt head of HR may last for several years.  Genuine HR management sometimes take years to discover especially in the absence of periodic HR Audits.  However, if HR management is corrupted and wrong doings are cleverly covered up or hidden, then you can imagine how long it can take to uncover and rectify.


The though of a corrupted or corruptible HR management system is frightening because it is difficult to detect and businesses are doomed if they ever have to fight such a cancer.  Truth is HR operations are most often not audited substantially like other departments.  This is understandable because not much physical cash passes through HR.  However, because HR controls a substantial asset base of the organization, it is easily corruptible.  Love it or not, HR is influential in many ways in the workplace and has the power to inflict serious organizational woes n a business when corrupted.


So what are the remedies for corruption in HR management?  I would say it is time to take HR Audits more seriously.  One very simple way of keeping track of the all important role of HR and the avoidance or early detection of HR corruption could be through the constant revision of expected HR outcomes, Compliance issues and benchmarking by use of HR Audit processes.

Secondly, HR must surely be accountable to somebody and the business leader may not be fluent enough in HR process supervision and management to be able to play such supervisory role.  So, periodic HR audits ensure that the function is accountable to the business through professional and planned assessments.  The business leader (CEO or MD) after receiving audit information can confidently take HR management decisions for the benefit and growth of the business.

HR audit processes churn out a lot of verifiable information for business process improvement.  With such abundant information, decisions regarding employees and the role they should play in growing the business are specific.  Decisions on employees can be made with all the confidence it requires knowing that it is based on assessment information that is reliable and accurate.  In the end, organizations should seek to ensure that there are periodic and enough audit assessments undertaken on all HR activities, processes and systems so as to provide enough information all the time for accurate HR decision making.  The solution lies in Human Resources Audit systems such as the Employment Governance Audit (egA) system.


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