Got a job offer you want to back out of, or a promotion you think you deserve? We tackle sensitive questions to ask HR.
Whether you’re a newcomer in a company or a loyal employee who’s stuck around for years, it can feel difficult to discuss tough topics in the workplace. It feels like there’s never a good time to bring up that pay raise you feel worthy of; or request for the break you desperately need to recover from burnout. We’re sure any working adult can relate. To help you out, these experts share tips on how to manage the conversation when you’ve got questions to ask HR.
Got sensitive questions to ask HR? Here’s how to approach it
If this is your first rodeo in the working world, and you’re wondering what to expect, don’t fret. A good HR manager should be someone who genuinely cares about your professional development and overall well-being. They can provide you with support, or conduct the necessary investigations you need to feel valued and safe as an employee of the organisation.
“Most high-performing companies know human capital is their most valuable asset,” explains Georgia Way, executive talent consultant. She shares that the priority of HR is always to optimise employee productivity, effectiveness and engagement of such assets. Therefore, sharing your individual needs to feel valued should be welcomed with open arms.
Even so, there are helpful and reasonable ways to assist HR with their jobs. “Try to be as objective as possible while explaining your situation to ensure the legitimacy of your concerns,” advises David Blasco, general manager at Randstad Singapore. “Give an honest and logical account and request for active guidance on what your next steps should be.”
“It’s good to approach your HR manager without bringing emotions into the picture. This will help you be taken more seriously,” adds Dorothy Thiam, a former HR consultant with more than 30 years of experience. “Come at it from the angle of wanting to understand your company policies better, and I’m sure your HR manager will be happy to help.”
Five questions you shouldn’t be afraid to ask HR
Now that we’ve established the role of HR, here’s the important part: how do we ask sensitive questions to HR? Especially without coming off as unappreciative, entitled, or worse – misunderstood? Here are expert tips on how to handle these five common queries.
1. Can I back out of my job offer before my start date?
Perhaps you’ve signed a contract recently, only to just receive an offer from your dream job. Oh no! Is it still possible to back out of the first offer before your start date? The answer is yes – although you should refrain from doing so if you can.
While you can rescind your acceptance of the offer, you should do so promptly, politely, and with sincere apologies. “Choose the clearest form of communication, which could be scheduling a call before you send an email to inform them formally,” David says. He also shares that you should request a written confirmation from HR on your withdrawal, and thank them for giving you the opportunity. Oh, and don’t forget to check if there are legal implications of you backing out, to protect yourself from any liabilities.
Georgia explains this course of action should be avoided if possible, as it can majorly affect the company you’ve signed with. “It might be easy to think a company will survive without you – which they probably will. But having to go back to the drawing board at this late stage will significantly impact certain individuals,” she says. “This resource gap has roll-on effects.”
To prevent this situation from happening in the first place, some things you can do during the interview process include: making sure you only pick the job offer you really want – no matter what; or asking for more time to consider the offer before making a concrete decision. Georgia shares that usually one to two weeks is a reasonable amount of time to ask for.
2. Can I ask for a higher pay raise than what’s being offered?
You can usually expect a pay raise at your annual review. But what if the amount your company is willing to provide isn’t satisfactory? Experts share that you can ask for a higher pay raise – as long as you’re prepared to justify your request.
“First, let them know you appreciate what you’re being offered. Being polite will take you far,” Dorothy advises. “Ask if there’s any room for consideration, but don’t quote a higher salary range out of thin air. Do some market research to see where your peers stand.”
You should also provide solid reasons to show why you deserve the pay raise you’re looking for. “Prepare evidence, such as your quantitative achievements and actionable goals for the next six to 12 months,” David shares. “To be precise, use a salary calculator to find out whether you’re earning as much as your peers with the same skills, remit and work experience.”
If you don’t get the pay raise you want after this, know that HR may not be able to meet your salary expectations. This can be due to budget constraints or internal salary equity issues. Instead, David shares you could potentially look into other things like additional employee benefits. This can include overtime transport allowance, hybrid or remote work arrangements, additional leave, or a more manageable workload.
3. I’m undergoing a lot of stress, can I take a mental health break from work?
Mental health awareness is on the rise. However, it can still be a tough question to ask HR at work. Sure, some companies have implemented policies to better support their employees. But there are circumstances where we may need more time to recuperate than just a couple of days off.
Whatever reasons you have, it’s important to dig deep. Find out if there are larger underlying issues that need to be addressed. For example, a doubled workload, workplace bullying, or a toxic work environment. This is because a mental health break can only go so far if it’s not a just matter of being burnt out.
“Whatever the situation, come to HR with a solutions mindset. Request time off, but also share some insight into why you are feeling stressed (if it’s work related). Ask for help to develop a plan to avoid this stress in the future,” Georgia says.
“The more your manager understands your experience, the better you’ll be able to find a solution together,” David adds. “You can also ask if your company has relevant resources such as mental health leave or counselling with a professional who may be able to help you out.”
4. Can you send me for a course or invest in a new tool to help increase my efficiency?
While this might be for a good cause to better the efficiency of your department, you might still feel a little shy to ask this. “I don’t think any HR manager will see this negatively,” Dorothy assures. “Sending staff for a course or adopting a new tool can be good things. But it has to be a justifiable cost.”
David shares that you could go a step further by explaining in detail how the tool or course can improve your work quality, efficiency and potential results. “The development opportunity should necessarily be related to your main role in the company and directly improves your job function,” he says.
Georgia adds that an important thing to note is the budget organisations may have for learning and development. If there’s money to spare, you can proceed to identify the core problems you want to solve, and relate them back to the company goals and KPIs. Presenting a cost-benefit analysis will help. And if you can get other employees on board with you, that might further strengthen your proposal.
“You may find you’ll become the project leader to implement this solution if it’s approved. This is a great opportunity to increase your visibility across a business,” she says.
5. I didn’t get a promotion, but I think I deserve one. Can we discuss this?
Just like asking for a higher pay raise, you can ask for a promotion. But know that whether or not you get one depends on a number of factors. Management may feel you aren’t ready for the responsibilities of the next role; or there simply might not be a position available for you to step into at the moment. Regardless, if you think you deserve a promotion, here’s how you can broach the topic with HR.
“Don’t bring it to the table as a demand. Instead, ask if there are any areas they think you’re currently lacking in. Find out how you can be coached to help you get to your next goal,” Dorothy shares.
David adds that it would be better to chat about the topic of a promotion ahead of your annual review. “You can initiate an informal discussion with your manager to find out how you can position yourself to obtain a promotion with some stretched goals,” he says. “Usually the best time to discuss this is after a successful project launch, or when your contributions have started to impact the company’s wider goals.”
This is when a development plan can be put in place for you. Your HR and manager will be able to come together to talk about your exceptional performance and capabilities, and consider them for a potential promotion.
And on the off chance that you don’t get the role you really want? The good news is, it’s not the end of the world. “Perhaps you can request to join or lead a special projects team instead,” Georgia says. “This will give you greater exposure across the business. It’ll also help you demonstrate your ability to stretch your skills into new areas and step up to new challenges.”
Remember that a thoughtful and competent HR manager is one who listens with empathy. So don’t be afraid to broach tricky questions, as long as you do it respectfully. “Sensitive topics are only as sensitive as the people in the conversation allow them to be,” Georgia adds.
We hope these tips give you the confidence to tackle questions for HR you might be afraid to ask.