HR departments are crucial to successful employment management and retention. But modern businesses often see a breakdown in the relationships between employee and HR managers.
Many employees dislike HR. It’s not a secret. But why?
Amongst other things, it is the task of HR to manage personnel relations. Their existence is critical within the company as a support structure for employees, from daily maintenance to aspects of their wellbeing. They are the shepherds tending to the flock, so why do the sheep all hate them?
The need for good employee-HR relationships is well documented. Good HR aids employee satisfaction, increases morale, raises productivity and results in better employee retention. So what’s going wrong, and how can businesses solve these problems to reap the benefits of good HR?
Why your employees hate HR
Understanding why your employees may hate HR is the first step to solving the problem. Here are a few possible causes:
A reliance on red tape and bureaucracy
HR is full of red tape and policies injected into employee management are preached like gospel. Most employees who experience HR disgruntlement will have been regaled with an arbitrary list of rules or heard the phrase ‘my hands are tied’. Some HR workers have become adept in the art of hiding behind bureaucracy and rules, rather than providing supportive action or fighting regulations in support of employee satisfaction.
Employees experience almost robotic responses to challenges and problems. An over-reliance on policies and approved practices are often at the core of contemptible HR departments. These policies can often work against the human nature of the workplace environment, which leads employees to feel like their HR department dehumanizes them. Instead, they think they’re seen as moving pieces in a machine, rather than a unique individual with unique problems and circumstances.
Disciplined for minor infractions
An offshoot of red tape and the over-importance of bureaucracy is that it can lead to situations viewed by employees as unjust or overstated. Minor impingement of rules or slight infractions of practices can be cited as major violation.
This becomes another element in the dehumanization of HR practice. Policy makes rule breaking overtly black or white, with no room for nuance. Employees make mistakes, or unavoidable circumstances may arise that result in the breaking of policy.
This leads to disciplinary action, such as warnings.
The result is employees feel like they’ve been victimized. The lack of leniency within some HR platforms creates an atmosphere of discontent between employees and the department, as it becomes another case of voices not being heard, and human stories not being considered.
Bias opinion in a position that requires unbiased thinking
HR is, by definition, a department set up to support the human side of the business. Yet, many employees feel it simply becomes a control mechanism for senior management. HR departments that regularly side with employers in disputes, and show bias towards upper management in scenarios that require an unbiased approach, result in unhappy employees.
The problem arises when HR and management become too closely intertwined, especially true when HR executives comprise of higher management. This leads to the distrust of HR amongst employees, who see the department as an extension of management and not a support structure that exists to aid them.
HR is underfunded
HR departments are repeat offenders on the list of corporate entities that regularly go underfunded. Businesses often find that resource output, in terms of direct profitability, is better spent elsewhere, and thus the department suffers.
Underfunded HR departments aren't able to deliver what workers need. They can’t manage disputes properly, maintain workplace practice efficiently or support employees effectively. Without this support, employees feel like they are being let down or ignored by HR, receiving blunt responses, briefings on policy and little time investment.
Archaic feedback and appraisal systems
Annual feedback systems are dead, yet many HR departments keep whipping the horse anyway. Annual appraisals were a systematic practice used by businesses of a previous era, but the days where that practice is beneficial is long gone.
Roles are much more diverse now. Businesses place much more responsibility on individual employees. HR aren't dealing with factory workers hitting quotas; they are dealing with dynamic employees with a range of responsibilities. Maintenance of old-fashioned feedback and appraisal systems leaves employees feeling underappreciated or unfairly judged. These systems foster the idea that HR are uninterested in active progress and employee development, and are instead fixated on broad targets and figures.
How do you solve the problem?
Just because the relationship between your employees and HR is a little rocky, that doesn’t mean you can’t fix it.
Enable HR practices that benefit employees
If HR are forced to follow policy to the letter by management, that is what they’ll have to do. If HR is forced to support management in disputes, that is what they’ll do. But HR should not simply be a tool for simpler business management, it should be a department that can help employees achieve greater levels of job satisfaction and guide them through issues at work to find satisfactory resolutions.
Improving employee-HR relations often means giving them more power to help and support workers, such as leniency over policy and the confidence to fight an employee’s corner. Removal of such strict processes is not always beneficial from an operational standpoint, as it introduces the potential for unique challenges. However, finding nuance in those previously black and white lines should be encouraged.
A balance is required here. Policy is important for control and stability, but so is humanizing your workplace, removing robotic HR-style management and treating individuals as just that.
Provide the tools for proper HR management
HR cannot do their job if they don’t have the right tools to do it. Allowing a small amount of flexibility on policy is a start, but they also need to be able to provide employees with the support they need through other means.
Moving away from old-fashioned appraisals into more modern forms of feedback and goal setting, such as the introduction of performance management software to actively track success and development, results in employees feeling more engaged with their work and HR.
Similarly, improved HR tools, through either other types of software or increased staffing, allows time to be given to employees where appropriate. For example, if an employee has a dispute over annual leave, yet HR are starved of resources to manage it, they’ll quote regulations and dismiss the case, leaving a disgruntled employee. If they have time and resources to invest in supporting the dispute, however, the chances of reaching a resolution that is agreeable for both parties is much higher.
Hire the right employees for the job
If you place policy-obsessed bureaucrats in HR roles, then you’ll see your employees deal with policy-obsessed bureaucrats. If you actively seek HR members who are keen to build relationships and improve the quality of the work environment for your employees, then that is who you’ll find.
HR is about people, so put people-focused managers in the seats of your HR department.
Author: Stuart Hearn has 20 years’ experience in the HR sector. He co-founded plusHR, a leading UK HR consultancy, and previously worked as International HR Director for Sony Music Publishing. Stuart is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software.