How to change HR’s bad reputation

HR - improving its reputation - image 444455Let’s be frank: the human resources department doesn’t always have the best reputation. Although HR fulfills an undeniably important role (no company employs a whole well-paid department for no good reason) it’s still the butt of many jokes and is often even resented by employees in different departments. HR stands for Human Resources.

Many people don’t know exactly what HR is or what it does. For this reason it’s seen as not having any useful function other than to make things difficult for everyone else. Worse, HR people are often stereotyped as incompetent and overpaid. They impose overly-bureaucratic processes onto the company that just slow things down, while forcing employees to jump through unnecessary hoops as HR documents every off-hand comment and misdemeanor, like some Kafkaesque combination of admin department and office secret police.

Let the people know

Changing this image has to start by ensuring everyone knows why HR exists and how it benefits both the company and its employees. Actually HR serves two main functions, and balancing these two roles means it’s a more challenging job than many people imagine. On the one hand, the job of HR is to make sure the company is legally compliant in its actions and policies; on the other, they also oversee recruitment, employee performance and records, payroll and benefits.

One can see from this summary how HR actually fulfils some very important functions from the employees’ point of view. If these aspects were ignored, the quality of their working life would certainly suffer. Yet the benefits HR works hard to secure are generally taken for granted. HR exists to keep things running smoothly, and often people only notice when things go wrong.

Communication and action

Better communication with employees and other departments would help others see the value in what HR does. Staff shouldn’t only be hearing from HR in the form of surveys and impersonal bulletins. If there’s a problem, HR needs to fix it promptly and to let people know what’s been done.

A pro-active HR department shouldn’t be afraid to shake things up, introduce new initiatives and make a positive impact on the workplace. At the same time, streamlining processes and cutting red tape where possible is always appreciated. A common sense approach that can be flexible and sensitive to human needs will go a long way. Knowing how to deal with employee bereavement with empathy and understanding is one example of how the “human” in human resources can and should be emphasized.

Employ the best

Making sure HR employees are competent and properly qualified will also go a long way towards restoring the department’s reputation. Bryant and Stratton is one of the top colleges to offer a comprehensive human resources degree; as the program details show, this course prepares students to understand and deal with every aspect of what an HR department is all about.

A confident, competent HR staff is better placed to collaborate with other departments, such as marketing or sales. This interaction will not only serve to humanize human resources, it will also benefit the company as a whole. It seems obvious to say that the best way to improve HR’s reputation is for the department to do its job well, but on the other hand it’s clear that the (hopefully rare) examples of badly-handled HR interventions are at the root of the current image problem.

Emphasize the positive

This image problem chiefly exists in the perception of other employees. Generally, upper management knows that HR is important, even if they see it as a necessary evil. The issue then is letting the general workforce know how having Human Resources benefits them.

Legal compliance for instance is generally about making sure worker rights are respected and that employees get all the benefits due to them. Yet too often HR interventions come across as time-wasting distractions from the job an employee is trying to get done, or being informed that something can’t be done the obvious, straightforward way.

Better interpersonal and communication skills can make it clearer that HR is there, in part, to protect employees against discrimination, exploitation and admin snarl-ups. At the same time, it should be made clear what problems HR can’t fix, so employees don’t have unreasonable hopes dashed, inevitably leading to greater resentment.

HR performs several vital functions in the workplace. Effectively fulfilling those functions with discrimination and sensitivity, while communicating its role throughout the company, will help HR throw off its bad image and be seen as the essential, vibrant department it truly is.

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