Improving HR’s image

Gaining trust through communication, advocacy and education

Improving HR’s image
Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

Last week, I discussed the issue of many employees not trusting the HR departments at their organizations. As well as being a problem within organizations, I believe this is an issue among many external jobseekers and society in general.

As I have mentioned several times over the years, much of the problem relates to people having a poor understanding of the HR function, its mandate and the types of work HR practitioners are capable of and interested in performing. So many people don’t understand just how broad the scope of the HR profession is (like one commenter at the bottom of this post).

Many people think only of recruitment when they hear the term “human resources” and are likely to blame inefficient recruitment processes in many organizations on the HR function (when the cause of these inefficiencies goes beyond HR in many cases and a great deal of HR professionals never do any recruitment). As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, people also tend to believe HR professionals should act as counsellors or therapists, and seem surprised when that turns out not to be the case.

Even in popular culture, HR is often portrayed as an unimportant function where people go who couldn’t cut it elsewhere. According to the stereotype, HR professionals are pedantic, bumbling, paper-pushing bureaucrats who are excessively driven by rules and regulations. Some are even portrayed as slightly malevolent, malicious and scheming.

So, what do we do as a profession to combat uninformed stereotypes, a poor public image and widespread misunderstanding? I personally believe the antidote involves communication, publicity, education, outreach and improvement.

Tips for improving HR’s image

The following are some thoughts and recommendations on how to raise the profile of the HR function within organizations and the profession generally:

  • Before listening to confidential information divulged by employees, explain to them how the workplace investigation process works, and that while confidentiality is important, HR has a moral and legal obligation to investigate alleged wrongdoing and obtain all sides of the story.
  • Complete an audit of your organization’s recruitment processes from end-to-end with a view towards improving candidate experience and your employer brand.
  • Take negative feedback about the recruitment process seriously.
  • Undertake an information program within your organization to educate business leaders, managers and employees about exactly what your HR department is working on, what types of skills and competencies HR practitioners possess and the types of issues HR can assist with.
  • Avoid reducing HR service levels simply in the interests of being “more strategic.” Where something is perceived as a takeaway, explain the rationale for the change and try to provide additional value in other ways.
  • Conduct surveys with internal client groups and obtain feedback on various HR programs. Make improvements wherever possible.
  • Ensure basic “keeping the lights on” activities are running smoothly before attempting to be more strategic.
  • Conduct employee engagement surveys and complete meaningful action plans as a result of the feedback obtained from employees.
  • Ensure organizational and employee communications are as authentic and transparent as possible.
  • Avoid trying to spin negative changes as being positive; ensure employees understand the rationale for organizational change.
  • Develop and implement a whistleblower protection policy and ensure that employees who make complaints in good faith are protected from reprisals.
  • Establish an employee ombuds function and set up an employee and family assistance program (EFAP); educate employees about these programs.
  • Ensure wrongdoing isn’t swept under the rug and that even senior business leaders are held accountable for unethical behaviour, bullying and harassment.
  • Complete full and proper workplace investigations into allegations of improper conduct. Ensure all parties are interviewed, evidence is preserved and a formal report is drawn up with findings and recommendations. Take appropriate disciplinary action where warranted while ensuring that respondents' rights to due process are respected.
  • Take allegations of workplace violence, harassment and bullying seriously.
  • Ensure the HR function adds value and provides knowledge and expertise in whatever it does; adopt a customer service orientation.
  • Take time to get to understand the roles, departments and functions within your organization.
  • Communicate and enforce employment policies fairly and consistently but be prepared to make exceptions where necessary.
  • Lobby HR professional associations to undertake a campaign to educate and inform business leaders and the general public about the role of HR and the scope of the HR function overall (not just designation holders).

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