The Role of HR and its Significance

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

This month, I want to talk a little bit about the role of HR and its significance in an organization. I’m not going to go into a research type of writing with data, statistics as I know there are tons of those writings out there but I wanted to talk about the role of HR from what I’ve heard and my feelings towards these comments.

In the past couple of months, I’ve spoken with friends about HR and was I shocked about their views on HR. I mean, I wasn’t too shock as I know there’s still this perception of HR as the cost centre and the department that handles the paperwork. Some people have told me that HR is where “those people make you follow all these ridiculous rules and pointless procedures to get one simple thing done. They make up all these hoops, obstacles and roadblocks for you to jump and pass through before you can do anything.” True, HR puts in policies, procedures and what some may see as roadblocks for the organization but these are necessary. Can you imagine what may happen if there’s no policies regarding sexual harassment or procedures about dismissal? There would be many lawsuits and chaos out there and these are costly to an organization. So these roadblocks are actually ways in which HR is helping an organization protect itself from millions of dollars and negative reputation.

Other comments I’ve heard also include “HR is the people who give out freezies, offer hugs, spend time throwing little parties and making workshops.” Sure, HR may be the ones offering freezies on a hot, sunny day but there is a purpose and significance behind this tiny gesture. This tiny gesture is little sign of care and appreciation, which affects engagement and retention. The little parties thrown by HR may be part of a plan to help the employees build a sense of connection and mentality of teamwork. The workshops are ways to develop employees, make them feel motivated and engaged because not everyone is motivated by external motivator such as money, especially with the Gen Y, who are motivated and engaged by internal motivators such as the opportunity to grow and learn.[1] Overall, these initiatives help with lowering turnover and increasing retention, part of talent management and development.

So maybe the problem is not what HR is doing but the fact that what HR is doing is not being measured in quantitative data; employees are not seeing significance in what HR does. HR needs to be more of a strategic partner and shows that HR has the business mindset and knowledge to prove that their actions make an impact to the organization. There needs to be a sense of return on investment and employees need to be communicated about the impact and the significance HR plays in an organization. There may be a possibility that the employees are not seeing significance in what HR is doing due to a lack of understanding and communication between what the employees need and what the HR thinks the employees need. HR needs to have better communication with the employees to make sure it is providing the right products and services to its customers, the employees. HR can have the best product and service but if that is not what the employees need, it is worth nothing in the employees’ views.

What do you think HR can do to change or affect the management and employees’ views of HR? How can we demonstrate HR’s importance to people within our organization?


[1] Bacharach, Samuel. Gen-Y Employees: How to Motivate Them http://www.inc.com/sam-bacharach/how-to-motivate-your-gen-y-employees.html

Heathfield, Susan M. The New Roles of the Human Resources Professional. http://humanresources.about.com/od/hrbasicsfaq/a/hr_role.htm

So HR’s not very sexy? Go figure…

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

A recent survey by the CIPD in the UK pondered on the results of a survey (of its own membership) that revealed HR wasn’t very “sexy”. The majority of CIPD members hadn’t thought of a career in HR when they were young.

Instead, they were thinking of more glamorous careers, such as being pop stars or train drivers. Why, oh why, are the kids of today not clamouring for a career in Human Resources? Where’s HR’s Lady Gaga when you need her?

Of course, the serious question underlying this report is: “how can HR attract young graduates into the profession”, and it’s a question worth asking. The current entry point into the profession appears to be through service centres, and it’s doubtful whether this is the best apprenticeship for a career in strategic HR.

The main problem HR faces is exemplified by the CIPD itself. It’s a chartered institute, and the image it presents is fusty, old-fashioned, and internal, with debates about maternity pay, TUPE transfer, and the maximum number of hours’ work in a day front and centre of its website. If HR is trying to destroy its image as the department with a rulebook, then this is no way to go about it.

The CIPD “champions better work and working lives”, which is great. Someone has to do it, and it’s a very noble thing to do. But it’s not going to get graduates very excited, is it?

If anything, the CIPD is a reflection of the HR community – as talented and as earnest a bunch of people as you could ever wish to meet. However, these are internal discussions. This is the minutia of day-to-day work in HR. When you find other departments discussing the minutia of what they do, it’s aligned to business goals.

If marketers are discussing how to improve clickthrough rates of e-mails (yawn), they’re actually discussing how to grow the business. If salespeople are discussing how a CRM can improve their productivity (yawn), they’re actually discussing how to grow the business.

HR needs to do more of the same. Instead of talking about how to handle internal disputes which only serve to emphasise the rulebook image, HR needs to talk about the bigger issues in the world of work, and demonstrate how it affects them. WE know that HR can add to the bottom line. WE know that our engagement strategies and our talent management programmes add to productivity, and WE know that our data can provide invaluable insight into how the business is faring.

So if we’re going to make HR a more attractive career proposition to talented graduates, these are the things we should be talking about. You can make a difference in HR, and while you might have a rulebook, you’ll also be a business leader.

The CIPD isn’t saying this. Instead, it’s down to the outsourcers like Ceridian, ADP et al to talk about the value HR adds.

The CIPD isn’t providing the voice that HR requires. We need a new institution that isn’t afraid to tackle the big subjects, and speak its mind.

The alternative is that HR continues to retreat into a world of internal debates and minutiae, and we leave the big stuff to everyone else.

It’s Your Choice

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

Joanne Kondo, CHRP

We all know that healthy employees are happier, more productive, and are engaged but how many organizations encourage healthy lifestyles? I am fortunate that my company has built a large gym with great equipment and a variety of fitness classes. Our cafeteria (also known as the “Hub”) has healthy menu items which change daily. And our communications team regularly posts suggestions on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Aside from the organization, most of my teammates are fit and enjoy healthy, active lifestyles. Most of us regularly go to the gym and enjoy our own physical activities outside of work (ranging from running, hiking, tennis, rock climbing to mountain biking). We encourage each other to maintain healthy lifestyles and have even gone so far as to abstain from all forms of junk food and eat only healthy protein and vegetables while we are at work.

Of course not all organizations or teams are so extreme. Despite my employer’s best efforts, many employees do not exercise and regularly eat the small selection of fried foods from the cafeteria on a daily basis.

It comes down to choice. At the end of the day it is your choice to be healthy and active, or not. I have chosen to (try to) maintain a healthy lifestyle and it isn’t always easy. It takes a great amount of organization and planning. I plan my meals days in advance and make the effort to pack my lunch and snacks the night before.

Do I cheat? Of course, on occasion. Again it comes down to choice. You made certain choices to obtain the career you have today, why not do the same for your health?

Encourage your staff to maintain healthy lifestyles at work

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

We all know the importance of living a healthy lifestyle but how many of us actually do it? Every few weeks, my friends and I would say that we are going to start eating healthier and living healthier lifestyle. We even go as far as talking about how we would do it but then it always fail because life gets busy and work gets hectic. We don’t have time to squeeze in that 30 minutes workout or have the energy to prep that healthy lunch and dinner after a long day at work. Yes, this may sound like an excuse (and it may be) but there lies some truth in this, as we spend more than half of our waking hours working or commuting to work.[1]

According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, in 2011, we spent on average of 36.4 hours/week at work.[2] That means on an average workweek, we spend about 7.5 hours/day, about a third of a day at work. It may not seem like a third of a day spent at work is a big deal but in fact, it is. This is why it is important for employers to help their employees in maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

As an employer, there are so many reasons to why they would want their employees to live a healthier lifestyle. Employers can’t control what employees do outside of the workplace but they can definitely affect how the employees are while they are at work so employers should try to incorporate programs to encourage healthier lifestyles at work. According to Healthy Families BC, not only are the benefits to healthy workplace beneficial to the financial bottom line by having more productive employees but it also helps with the organizational image by being corporate social responsible and also helps with the legal aspect through demonstrating due diligence with respect to employees and other stakeholders.

There are four ideas I think companies can do to help the employees in maintaining healthier lifestyles and some are very similar to those suggested at Healthy Families BC. One of the ideas is through providing a work environment that supports physical activity, such as providing an in-house shower facility and an in-house gym at the workplace. If in-house gym in not feasible, companies can try to liaise with a gym close-by and register the employees to have membership and access to the gym to workout.

Second idea is to incorporate healthier food options at vending machines. Yes, this is simple and everyone knows it but how many companies actually do it? How many companies can successfully encourage their employees to choose healthy, not so tasty snacks over those unhealthy but very delicious snacks ? Maybe companies need to consider charging less for the healthier snacks and charging more for the unhealthy snacks. Or even providing healthy snacks for free, after all, one of the benefits of healthy employees is greater productivity so the cost of snack is really insignificant in comparison to the benefit.

In addition, companies can try to liaise with healthy restaurants to provide discounts for employees to purchase lunch and dinner. As mentioned, a lot of us are too tired or have no energy to make something healthy after a long day at work. Therefore, by providing an option to purchase healthy food at a convenient location near our workplaces can help employees with maintaining a healthier lifestyle both during and after work.

The third idea is to incorporate activities that encourage employees to get active. This can be a fundraising activity involving the employees to participate in a certain run for cancer or bike for different causes. Or incorporate activities at the workplace that encourage healthy lifestyles such as making it mandatory for employees to take a 5 minute walk around the office every hour, providing employees with a balancing ball to sit on instead of a chair or ensuring employees live a work-life balance by encouraging them to not work more than a certain number of hours per week.

Fourth idea is to allow and encourage the employees to participate in committees at work to create programs that promote maintaining healthier lifestyles. Sometimes, employees just need that little push and to be held accountable for maintaining healthier lifestyles. Like Google, which allows the employees to spend a certain amount of time per week on their own projects. Companies can make it where employees are put into committees or teams and are given a few hours a month to create programs or ideas that encourage healthier lifestyles.

Companies may have health and wellness programs that encourage healthy lifestyles but it is very important to remember to communicate these programs to the employees. There is nothing worse that having great programs in place to encourage healthy lifestyles but gets wasted and not fully utilized.

Build a healthier lifestyle at work by scheduling lunchtime walks, ditching your phone, and packing your lunch

Geraldine Sangalang, CHRP

Geraldine Sangalang, CHRP

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When employees move around in my company, our internal communications folks ask them to fill out a survey so that we can learn more about them. This response was recently posted:

When 3 o’clock hits, you’ll see me reach for:
a) Chocolate
b) Coffee
c) Fresh fruit
d) Something salty
e) Other: __________________

The choice selected was e) Other: A walk in the sun.

Amazing. What would I answer? Chocolate, most definitely.

In today’s reality, the idea of multitasking seems redundant. Doing more than one task at a time is built into the way we function: people operate electrical devices for social interaction while they walk; employees do their work while listening to music; work is done virtually as well as in person. Immediacy is an unspoken expectation that is met again and again.

If we spend more time at work than at home – and certainly if we spend more time at work than in our beds – we need to make our work lifestyles healthier. We’ve all heard of accounts that healthier lifestyles boost mood, overall health and productivity, so why not focus on making your lifestyle at work a healthier one?

Schedule lunchtime walks

I started scheduling lunchtime walks with a good friend of mine every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s wonderful because it forces me to stop working and the leave the office! I know that must sound ridiculous to those of you who are good to yourselves, and take your regular breaks and lunches, but I’m terrible at making myself stop. If I have a friend waiting on me, not only do I have something to look forward to in the middle of the day, but by walking and talking out whatever’s going on in my life, I know that I’ll be in a better headspace in the afternoon.

You can do your grocery shopping, pick up coffee somewhere special, or you can do as we do and take advantage of the sea wall in Vancouver. Pedometers make great inexpensive employee gifts. It was certainly the most useful company gift I’ve ever received.

Leave your phone behind

How bad are cell phones for your health?  Are they made better now than they were before, reducing radiation exposure to users? With all the research propogated by cell phone and marketing companies, who really knows … I just know that I’m addicted to the thing.  I use my cell phone for everything. One of my New Years’ Resolutions for 2013 was to start writing notes – not texting them, not emailing them or saving them in a cell app, but actually writing personal notes on paper.

We’ve all heard those ridiculous accounts of people falling into manholes or walking into street signs while using their phones. So I challenge you: leave your phone behind when you go for breaks and walks during your lunch breaks!

I know, now I’ve lost you. That’s your time to check facebook, do your banking, or play whatever fad game you can’t take your eyes off so that no one talks to you during your lunch. But think about it this way, fellow office workers: how much time do you spend staring at a computer screen, and how much time do you spend on the phone? I can’t honestly say that I leave my phone at the office during every lunch and break, but I do make a point to physically leave it behind once each week. It’s amazing just how easily things become appendages; the need for change begins with awareness.

Pack your lunch!

I know, it sounds so easy. I know that it’s not. But truly, packing your lunch means that you save money, calories, and sodium!

I don’t make everything from scratch – I wish I hate that kind of time and creativity, but I really don’t. Buy a rotisserie chicken, make a veggie stir fry, and boom – you’ve already got a lunch that’s more appealing, appetizing and nutritious than whatever you’ll find at the food court/cafeteria.

For those who bring breakfast to work with you, consider packing a breakfast sandwich that you can pop in the toaster oven at work. Or save yourself the sodium (and save the packaging) by bringing some oats, brown sugar and walnuts in a glass Tupperware. Add boiling water, toss on the lid and you’ve got oatmeal in 2 minutes.

Do I purchase lunch and dinner often? Of course – especially now that Vancouver’s food trucks are multiplying, and the sun’s coming out (this weekend, I’m told …) but imagine the good you can do for yourself by packing your lunch the majority of the time. Go out for lunch, but be aware of how often you do so.

It’s amazing how your life can change by simply choosing a different route. Your eyes are opened to a different reality – a different way of doing things. I challenge you to take on at least one of these lifestyle changes, and see how a change can lead to a new positive habit at work.

Nudge, Guide & Encourage Healthy Practices in the Workplace

Gareth Cartman

Gareth Cartman

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

Here are two extremes. Ted eats junk food all day, never exercises, and goes to bed at 3am after playing computer games all night. He turns up at 9:30 every morning looking bleary-eyed, and needs several coffees just to get started.

Ed, however, gets a proper night’s sleep, is in at 8:00 every morning after a session in the gym, and eats healthily.

Which of your two employees is the more productive? Well, there is a chance that Ed spends his day on Facebook, and there is a chance that Ted is a genius who only needs a few hours’ sleep and a gallon of coffee… but if you had a hundred Teds, the chances are that you’re not getting the best work out of them. Chances are that you’re getting better work out of your one hundred Eds – so why leave it to chance?

After all, it’s simple maths – you invest x amount in a health initiative, and you get y amount in return. Y will be a multiple of x.

The value of a nudge

Most large organisations have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place, but many see it as a tick in the box. A phone number, or a web portal. Promote it, if you’ve got it. Insist on running promotions that hit peoples’ inboxes, get in their faces next to the coffee machine, or through your intranet. Communicate and nudge people towards the solutions you’re providing.

But it doesn’t have to be an EAP. There are simple things that smaller businesses can try. For instance, get rid of the chocolate machine and buy in a fruit box at the start of every week. Offer reduced-price gym subscriptions. Offer breakfast (so long as it’s a healthy option), and insist that people use their breaks. A corporate culture of working through lunch breaks does not result in greater productivity or ‘more work done’ – it results in the same amount of work being stretched over a longer period.

The value of a guiding hand

Sometimes, a nudge is not enough. There may be instances when an employee’s work is being hindered by simple problems that you have caused. Yes, you. Your computer screens, your workstations, your chairs – you could be causing headaches, causing backache, musculoskeletal problems…

A guiding hand would seek to pre-empt any potential issues by providing proactive and reactive services to employees – as simple as, say, giving access to a physiotherapist as and when needed, or ensuring that workstation assessments are carried out, at least on an annual basis. Simple solutions that can be paid for on-the-go, and nip a problem in the bud.

The value of encouragement

I’ve always hated the word gamification, but the principle behind it is solid. The idea is that by creating a little healthy competition, you can change behaviour. I’ve heard of digital agencies giving out wristbands which measure the number of steps you take – as well as the quality of your sleep.

The data is uploaded to employees’ smartphones, and shared in a league table. Who moved the most in the last week? Who slept the best? It’s a harmless little competition that encourages healthy activity. Some of these devices even let you scan barcodes of food you’ve eaten, to measure calorie intake. I think that’s a great idea, and it may be one of the more forward-thinking initiatives businesses have to take in order to get that little bit more productivity out of their people.

If we’re going to prove ourselves as HR professionals, and deliver measurable change to the business, we have to nudge, guide, and encourage our people to make healthy choices not just in the workplace, but at home. Healthy people are (generally speaking) productive people, and we have the data to correlate our initiatives with business results.

Being Fit Influences Work Satisfaction

Bonnie Milne, PhD

Bonnie Milne, PhD

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

Not that long ago, I would have promoted the idea of having fitness facilities in the workplace, but I have changed my mind about this. In September of 2012 we moved to a new campus that has a small gym for employees and I have used it once. In spite of that, I am in better shape than I have been in years.

On one of the days when I’m scheduled to work late, I attend a yoga class in the morning. This stops me from coming in to work early and ensures that when I do arrive, I feel great! In the evening and on the weekends, I have been lifting weights, kayaking, snorkeling and playing tennis. These activities have helped me to increase my fitness level and they have encouraged me to meet people. I have new friends who have similar interests and when we are together, work disappears!

In the past, I have exercised at work, and this has simply extended my work day and made my workplace even more of a focus in my life. There have been times when I thought this was fine, but I don’t think so any more. I think well rounded employees need to engage in their community. When they are at work, they are working, but their whole life doesn’t revolve around work and they are less stressed because they have more outlets.

Paula Reece, who is a co-owner of Crossroads Fitness Centers, says that employees who are fit have higher energy levels, are more goal oriented and have higher levels of self-confidence. These are traits that would increase performance in almost any job.
Workplace incentives like gym memberships, paid lessons, personal coaches, and time off for reduced sick leave are good starting points for employers to consider if they want their employees to be healthy and fit.

On the other hand, fitness is a personal issue. Most of us do better if we have a buddy to work out with. Workplaces can provide information about fitness activities in the community; create online programs for employees to find others who are interested in particular activities so they can exercise together. Employers can also promote free websites like my fitness pal where one can track exercise and calories.

My experience is that when I begin to feel and see the benefits of exercising, I become even more committed. According to Moore (2010), my experience is not unique. Annesi (2005) adds that when a person exercises for several months, they come less anxious. As well, the research shows that exercise increases self-efficacy – essentially one’s belief that she can achieve her goals.

Employees with higher self-efficacy tend to set goals that are more challenging and stick to them. Moreover, people with a high sense of self-efficacy invest more effort and persist longer to accomplish a specific task than those with low self-efficacy.

What I found most interesting while perusing through Moore’s dissertation is that employees who exercise have better psychological states, and physical well-being, and as a result were more satisfied with their jobs (Moore, 2010). It is hard to believe that it could be that simple. No need to change jobs, simply exercise more. What great news and what a great opportunity to take control of our lives and our work lives!

Moore, David. (2010) The Relationship Between Exercise and Job Related Outcomes PhD Dissertation UMI Number: 3405149