Beyond the HR Function: The Personal in the ProfessionalFeatured

Human resources is often the first point of contact for any potential new employee. The information exchange between any candidate and the organization is typically around the candidate’s own experience, the organization, and the new role they’ve applied for. Rarely is there an introduction to the HR department as a whole, and the role it plays in the employee’s life cycle. Further, there’s often little to no work put in to create and foster a relationship between HR and employees because of the mostly facilitatory and support oriented purpose behind HR. With the mystery surrounding the HR department and its myriad purposes within an organization, employees are often left to create pre-determined (and often negative or indifferent) opinions about what HR function is and how it helps the organization’s workforce. The number of times I’ve had employees of all ages and within all roles ask me, “So what exactly does HR do?” I’ve considered this an incredible opportunity each time I hear it to both educate, and create connections with the employees I work alongside.

Currently, the HR professional overall is undergoing somewhat of a change. It’s a behind the scenes function that wants to be a part of the bigger picture, to have a seat at the table, and to contribute to the strategy and overall planning within an organization. It’s an island that wants to be a part of the mainland. This was certainly the case pre-pandemic but has only grown in the last several months as return to work plans and post-COVID landscapes are being drawn. I think the most important ways that HR can contribute to an organization’s growth is through more than strategy and planning. The necessity of functionality and the requirement for an HR professional to delicately straddle the line between employee advocacy and organizational support often leans on the side of the latter, alienating the former. Creating the personal within the professional is possible and should be encouraged! As an HR professional, committing to relationship building with your employees is single handedly the most rewarding aspect of the role, and can have a tremendous impact on organizational growth!

What does building this relationship do beyond the ability for employees to see HR in a new light? Repairing, and in some cases, creating from scratch an HR reputation comes from cultivating mutual respectful relationships with employees through confidence and education. Confidence in your role as an HR professional, not just through legislative knowledge, but in your individual ability to help solve complex workplace problems with empathy and tact.

This confidence comes from sharing your own experience within the organization as an employee yourself. Coming to the relationship as an employee to share what you’ve learned can have an impact on mutual respect. Facilitating discussion around questions like: What have you done for the organization that has had a positive impact? What did you bring to past experiences and how can you share this with employees to motivate and elicit trust and open communication?

It’s ok to create relationships with employees and learn more about what they are looking for from the organization, and what they’re looking to give. This is a practice that should be encouraged by leadership and embraced by the HR department. Starting with implementing a “What Can HR Do for You?” element within your onboarding presentation, committing to regular information sessions on what various strategies and initiatives the HR department is working on and consistent checkpoints with middle management and a sample of their employees to ensure alignment are among ways these relationships can be formed. Consistent reminders through info sessions about the supports available that promote mental wellbeing are critical in a post-COVID workplace. Our workforce has changed, so we must consider how to navigate changes in performance, motivation, and the interconnection of mental illness in some employees. Be well versed and competent in benefits administration so that if and when an employee comes to you with an urgent request you have the answer or know where to find it quickly. This was an HR best practice before the outbreak of COVID-19, but it is important now more than ever to create an informative space for your employees where they feel safe to share. Many benefits providers are focusing on ways to get this information to your employees and have started various programs to help employers communicate these supports to their workforce. It’s time to capitalize on the leg work they’re putting in to help the HR department help its employees!

When the above is considered and relationships are built, employees are more likely to understand business decisions made by HR. It becomes less about HR’s focus on business growth, and more about employee development and wellness, which contributes to business growth!

Great synopsis and, with a background in HR, a particularly interesting read. I wholeheartedly agree with your comments around getting to know employees; I began my career so long ago it was called Personnel and that was very much the tone. With the influx of legislation I lived through the shift into HR and, as someone who had often chosen organisations where I'd know every single employee, this shift away from employee advocacy was tough. I am interested to see future developments with an increasing commitment (on paper at least) to employee engagement and welfare
Thanks Rebecca! The one thing constant about HR is the change - that's for sure. I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds as well for this profession!