Whenever it becomes necessary to raise the subject of Human Resources, it seems curious that some people immediately react with a sense of apprehension.
Sadly, there are those who have been known to exploit the office of Human Resources, trading on one worker’s fear of being ostracized or fired for inadvertently disrespecting other workers’ rights and freedoms. Often, this occurs regardless of whether or not there was an actual offense.
Mostly it’s a commentary on the individual who attempts to gain an advantage by manipulating the system. Unfortunately it’s all the Human Resources Department as a whole that suffers because it’s their job to see the complaint through, whether or not it is justified.
There have been instances of supervisors and managers of questionable ilk who have used HR as an invisible club, or a threat, to control their charges. In both cases, it makes employees wary and distrustful of HR, or its hypothetical potential to damage their careers.
However, these notions regarding HR are misguided at the very least. The truth is that a company’s Human Resources Department is likely the backbone of the organization. Viewing HR in such narrow terms, simply as a company’s “law enforcement”, is not only antiquated, but incorrect. While a significant portion of their aim is to be sure that all employees are holding to company policy, their purpose is to also ensure the fair treatment of each worker; and that is only the beginning.
The very best way to establish and maintain a great relationship with your company’s Human Resources Department, is to truly understand the functions of and the principles behind HR to the fullest extent.
HR is Multifaceted
The HR department is far too important for the types of “games” mentioned above. Most departments can break themselves down into a couple of predominant functions. The Manufacturing department makes; the Production department organizes; the Purchasing department buys; the Sales department sells, and so on. No such (overly simplified) single word definition exists for the Human Resources Department.
HR is absolutely vital in any large business, and the most important department in most SMBs. If your company is large enough to warrant having one, it is one of your top resources, bar none. Consider: HR interacts with every single employee, on every level, before, during, and after their employment. That means they interact with every single department and facet of your organization at every level. HR is omnipresent in the company structure, as they handle:
- Legal compliance
- Employee Selection advice
- Employee relations
- Training and Development
Unless they are politically motivated, changes in Federal and State laws come about slowly, and in a fairly predictable fashion. It is HR’s job to assure that the company remains in legal compliance with Federal and State laws, as well as making sure that all workers are properly documented to work in this country.
Managing & advising on the selection pool
Hiring managers can’t work in a vacuum, so to speak. They often don’t have the skills (or the time) to qualify hundreds of candidates. HR whittles the pool down to a manageable size, according to the company’s work force requirements, and offers guidance to hiring managers not familiar with standard hiring practices and coordinating with company needs.
Getting candidates in the door
Recruitment is probably the most important area for HR. Determining which method is utilized to alert candidates to an open position is one of their chief strengths. Selection of the proper ATS (Applicant Tracking Software), based upon the company’s needs, will help the company achieve the results it desires.
Greasing the wheels
Naturally, they are responsible for smoothing employee relations and mediating disagreements, when prior attempts have failed. They can suggest solutions and solve seemingly intractable problems. The key to good relations, however, is to know what you want from your HR interaction before you go in. If you have an objective they can help you work towards a solution. Do you want them to be present while you talk to an overbearing boss? Ask them for help getting to your ultimate goal.
Training, Developing, and Retaining
Companies generally don’t hire the first person off the street with the correct qualifications. When HR vets a new potential employee, they’re looking for existing skills or potential which could be useful in the future. The smartest companies offer training for their employees through HR to make sure they can perform their assigned tasks, but those with particular foresight also provide development for their existing workers to increase their value to the company.
If you want additional training, consult with HR to see what is available. They can even provide a strategy for proposing the additional training to your supervisor. They’ve seen it before and can point out benefits to the training that you might not see for yourself.
Of benefit to everyone
HR manages the company benefit plan by aiming for broadest appeal toward the types of employees that the organization is seeking, or wishes to retain. One of the more clever innovations they’ve developed is the selectable benefit plan. For example, a multiple-income family, with a very good plan from a different employer, can choose to focus on a comprehensive dental plan for their children with orthodontic needs, along with massage therapy, flextime, telecommuting, anytime-vacations, or other perquisites.
There are all sorts of issues that arise in the workplace, such as those discussed at the very beginning, unfair employment practices, discriminatory practices, or harassment. When they are dealt with early, before they have a chance to escalate, it can — and does — keep the company name clean and clear. The last thing any organization wants is to be front page news for being embroiled in a legal battle with an employee, or a group of employees.
Protecting Employee Safety
Another area where HR must intervene is employee safety. New employees in the vulnerable sector (first job, or under age 25) need to be apprised of their right to refuse unsafe work. From a conscionable point of view, no organization wants anyone to suffer an unnecessary injury, be put in a life-threatening situation, or worse. From a corporate perspective, any such circumstance will create nothing but bad press for the company. In basic terms, HR helps to make sure you don’t end up in the spotlight for negative reasons.
Paying Market Value
In 1900 CE the work week was 6 days of 9 hours each, and the wage hovered around $1-$1.30. Henry Ford elected to pay $2.50 per hour to attract workers to the arduous and difficult job of assembling his cars. Due to his personal ethics, he would then double that wage ($5, four times the going rate) for anyone who would agree to go to church and never drink or gamble (among other restrictions). Workers who agreed to the increased wage were subject to surprise inspections by Ford’s company Morality Enforcers.
However we look at history, companies do not want to be paying out four times that of their competitors, other than in exceptionally specific circumstances. HR ensures that wages are both competitive and attractive to the types of prospective employees the company wishes to hire and retain.
HR also participates at the C-suite level, helping to determine current strategies to achieve future objectives. They use educated foresight when choosing who train for the future needs of their organization.
One of our most significant failures as Corporate America was failing to recognize the retirement of the baby boomers. The first wave took millions of years of corporate experience and put it out to pasture with no replacements on the horizon. The second wave, occurring now, will take another large chunk of corporate experience with it.
Less than 25 percent of companies had forward-looking HR departments who were prepared, and have already hired the people they would need in advance. The rest are still struggling with the ramifications.
HR is not the enemy, and never has been. Their job is to make the company better. If increasing your skills improves the organization, they are all for it. They thrive on resolving situations that may have a negative impact on the company, and seeking solutions that result in increased efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability.
If you’re not being successful in your current position, they can probably help you shift within the company to a place where your skills or ambitions can be more useful. If you’re working hard and progressing, but not getting any acknowledgment, HR often undertakes the responsibility of recognizing employees for their accomplishments.
If you feel you have more to contribute to the organization for which you work, sometimes HR can connect you with a mentor who can help you progress. In many ways, HR frequently picks up a certain amount of managerial slack: Their primary purpose is to make the company better, and they appreciate any help (even if it benefits you personally) that aids them in getting a bit closer to that goal.
Further reading: Understanding Human Resources: What is the HR “Gray Area”
Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200