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Do Your Employees Hate Your HR Department?

By Business.com Editorial Staff
Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: May 16, 2018
Image credit: Portrait Images Asia by Nonwarit/Shutterstock

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. Discover why your employees hate your HR department and the steps you can take to change that.

Many employees dislike HR. It's not a secret. But why?

Among 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. These are the shepherds tending to the flock, so why do the sheep seem to 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 business owners solve these problems to reap the benefits of good HR?

Why employees hate HR

A reliance on red tape and bureaucracy

HR is full of red tape and policies injected into employee management that are preached like gospel. Most employees who experience HR disgruntlement 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. Core to the values of contemptible HR departments is an over-reliance on policies and approved practices. 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 overimportance 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 contraventions.

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 breaking 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.

Biased 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 higher management. This leads to distrust of the HR amongst employees, who see the department 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 their HRs, 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 more responsibility on individual employees. HR is no longer about 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?

Enable HR practices that benefit employees

If HR is 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 helps 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 humanising 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. Policy that isn't carved into stone is a start, but they also need to be able to provide employees with the support they need through other means.

A movement 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 is 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 support the dispute, however, the chances of reaching resolution that is agreeable to 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.

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