January 7, 2016

HR needs to improve its PR

A quarter of the UK workforce has no idea what the HR function does. Moreover, almost half of them (48%) have not had any contact with HR in the past year. Those who have been in touch with HR have largely (53%) made contact for transactional reasons, such as changing pay details or holiday entitlements.

These are some of the findings of a new survey of 1,150 employees conducted by YouGov on behalf of the CIPD’s People Management publication.

The research highlights the very real need for HR to improve its image. HR needs to ensure everyone – employees, the chief executive, the board, shareholders and stakeholders – knows what the HR function does, what it offers and how it can benefit an organisation and the people within it. If the workforce does not understand the value of HR, it is up to HR to address that. HR needs to do a good PR job on itself.

At the moment, HR often lacks visibility, status and credibility. Not in all organisations, but certainly in some. The HR profession is well aware that it has an image problem – it is a topic that is much debated and publicised.

Almost half (45%) of the survey respondents said HR’s role was ‘not useful’ at shaping organisational culture. People Management followed up the survey with a poll of 150 readers. What were the findings? HR knows that it is viewed as a transactional resource rather than a strategic one. Of those 150 readers, 72% said their main responsibilities are dealing with pay, 70% dealing with holiday entitlements, 85% with recruitment and 85% with disciplinaries.

This second poll raised some interesting topics for debate about why HR has such an image problem. Here are some of the responses to the question ‘Where is HR and L&D letting itself down?’

– ‘We don’t communicate enough about what we are doing and where we are aiming for our business to be.’
– ‘We’re too remote – the shared services model is old hat and flawed.’
– ‘The Ulrich model has been a disaster, fragmenting the function. Now the pre-Ulrich holistic HR people – who became business partners – are retiring those that are left are stuck in their process silos physically and mentally.’

One theme that cropped up repeatedly was that HR focuses so much on mid- and senior-level management that it is neglecting and failing to engage with the majority of the workforce. Yet, employee engagement is crucial to the success of HR. Employees need to be engaged with their work and with their organisation. HR should be playing an important and guiding role in this engagement. HR needs to be engaged with the business and the workforce. HR, employees, senior management, the business – they are all intertwined and interdependent.

HR needs to ensure it is engaging with employees at all levels in a meaningful way and therefore helping to achieve business success. The transactional side of HR is important, but far more important is that HR’s interaction with employees goes way beyond holiday leave and pay changes. HR should be communicating with employees about training, job satisfaction, business objectives and so on. It needs to be viewed as an integral, strategic part of an organisation’s overall culture and success by employees high and low.