HR walks line between employer, employee

Finding balance very important for HR: Survey
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/31/2010

Walking the line between serving employers’ interests and protecting employees is an important, and difficult, task for HR professionals, according to the latest Pulse Survey.

“Our role is a balancing act,” said Gail Zomer, a human resource manager in Mississauga, Ont., with 25 years’ experience and one of the survey’s respondents.

“We need to be (employee) advocates as well as representing our employers and our employers’ interests.”

The survey of 572 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association found 95.6 per cent of respondents agree or strongly agree HR professionals have responsibilities that go beyond serving the interests of employers or clients.

And 95.4 per cent agree or strongly agree HR professionals have a duty to protect the interests of employees.

But that doesn’t mean forgoing employers’ interests in favour of employees. Getting the balance right between the two potentially competing interests is important, according to 96 per cent of respondents, and 58.4 per cent say HR professionals have found the right balance.

However, 36.9 per cent worry HR professionals lean too much in the direction of serving employers’ interests. This can happen when HR professionals feel it’s their mandate to protect the company from employees, said Zomer.

“It’s unfortunate when that happens,” she said. “If the role of an HR professional is to be a liaison, then individuals who work only in the employer’s camp lose that particular aspect and that particular benefit.”

Only 4.8 per cent say HR professionals put too much emphasis on protecting employees’ interests. This is a more common pitfall for new HR professionals who are just starting out, said Zomer.

“As you mature and step back, you gain perspective,” she said. HR professionals need to learn to look at both sides’ needs, as opposed to their wants, to help them reach a mutually beneficial position, she added.

Regardless of the standards set by employers or client organizations, 89.4 per cent of respondents say HR professionals must maintain certain service standards.

However, this can put undue strain on HR professionals, said Zomer. Often when HR professionals talk to management about an employee issue that isn’t being handled well, the executive team will overrule HR, she said.

“You’re not in control,” she said.

And HR professionals also need to remember who signs their paycheques, said Ron Ker, a Niagara Falls, Ont.-based HR consultant with 40 years’ experience.

“You have a duty of fidelity to your employer. They’re paying your wages,” he said. “Your responsibility is to follow the company’s rules, policies and procedures.”

But if the rules, as set out by the employer, go contrary to employment standards legislation or human rights legislation, then HR professionals must point that out, said Ker.

“It’s a real tough situation that you find yourself in. You have a duty and an honour to your CHRP (Certified Human Resources Professional designation) and your code of ethics, but you also want to know where your paycheque is coming from next week,” he said.

To be able to walk that line, it’s important for HR professionals to build strong relationships with managers and senior executives, said Ker.

“It’s all in the dynamics,” he said.

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