Tag Archives: communication

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

Navigating Communication in an Inter-Generational Workplace

I went to watch a high school musical this week (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song) and left the theatre with one of the songs from the show stuck in my head. In the musical, this particular song is sung first by the parents and later by the children, and while the verses change, the chorus stays the same: “What are we going to do about the other generation?  How will we ever communicate without communication?”

The line is quite catchy when sung, and I’ve been contemplating the idea a bit more this week, what with those lines constantly repeating in my head. It has made me think a bit more about the early part of my management career, during which I at first struggled greatly and then eventually found success in effective inter-generational communication.

When I became a manager seven years ago I was significantly younger than the majority of staff I was supervising. I remember this was an area of concern for the District Manager who interviewed me; he specifically asked how I was planning to address a situation where an older employee didn’t feel that they needed to listen to me. I rattled off an answer that at least was “good enough”, seeing as I was hired for the job; I spoke being an active listener, asking for opinions, and speaking tactfully and respectfully.

Not to say that these ideas are not useful; however, on their own they certainly didn’t prove to be enough. Further, they were difficult to stick with, especially in a conflict situation. I found myself involved in pointless power struggles, arguing about issues which certainly weren’t worth the stress. I often felt like certain employees resisted only for the sake of resisting. Reflecting now, as much as they resisted, I was a mirror to them in terms of will; I was asserting myself only for the sake of asserting as well.

This tug of war became very exhausting, and I thought a lot about how to improve my relationship with more senior staff. I was having far more success dealing with staff in my generation or younger- what was the difference I was missing with the other generations?

Eventually I realized that the difference was in the relationships that I was building. With staff my own age, I was having a better time- speaking with humour, relating and listening to stories, acknowledging my faults and errors, commiserating. My relationship with employees of other generations tended to be strictly work-related. It seemed unlikely to me at the time that we might have much in common.

Bridging that gap took time. I started working on improving my relationships with everyone, not only with the people who were easy to talk to. I asked more about what was going on in their daily lives; I made sure I always greeted them when they came in, and thanked them warmly when they left; I worked on reading facial expressions and body language, and then asking questions to discover conflicts before they erupted. I was very public in asking them for opinions on improvements, and always private in assessing their performance. All of the sudden, I was not only finding myself more effective as a manager, but happier in my work as well.

A caveat: friendship, or friendliness, is not always the best basis upon which to build a successful working relationship. The line here can be hard to discern, and shifts with each person. A part of the friendship I build with an employee always has to have a strong element in trust in that person’s ability to be competent and responsible in their work. Where this has occasionally gone wrong for me is a subject for another day. I will say though that this issue has actually never occurred in the relationships I have built with more mature employees.

My main point here is that we often need to go outside our comfort zone and extend ourselves to others, even when we might not feel that we are very similar. Communication becomes much easier when you can build a sense of familiarity with each other; areas where issues may have arisen can be more easily navigated when you know how a person might react. Putting in the effort to get to know everyone can not only make you more effective, but can enrich your life in ways you hadn’t expected.

It Takes Two to Tango

I think it would be an easy cop-out to say that it is an Employer’s responsibility to keep workers engaged. Drilling down, one may even say it is Management’s sole function to keep workers engaged to ensure high productivity… But, this doesn’t paint the full picture. Yes, without a doubt management needs to actively engage their workers- give them variety in their task, autonomy within their work, and foster the connection one has with the purpose of their work; however, I’d like to focus on the relationship between and employee and an employer and how each plays a role in employee engagement.

As an employee it is also your responsibility to ‘maintain’ your engagement. If you feel yourself becoming disconnected from your work, bored, or feeling unchallenged, you have two options: you can say something to your boss, or you can stay silent. Sitting your boss down and saying your work is boring is not exactly what I’m suggesting- don’t misquote me! But what I am saying is that employers are not mind readers and many take the approach of no news is good news when looking at feedback from employees. Sometimes a candid conversation is needed, especially when the relationship between employee and manager is a good one. Like any relationship, including the employment one, communication is key. If you choose not to voice your concerns or wishes related to your work-that is completely your choice- sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and sometimes the squeaky wheel quietly looks for work at another organization in their spare time.

Remember those “Employee Engagement Surveys”? That is one avenue employers take to solicit feedback from employees and gauge levels of dedication, interest and happiness within the workplace. If the survey is sent out, and management takes no action upon the results, I’d say they shouldn’t have done a survey to begin with! If management receives the results, truly invests in making the changes employees say they need to stay engaged, and actually takes action, that is a great start to ensuring employees are engaged.

I think there is a lot to be learned about corporate culture playing into employee engagement, the law of attraction that states ‘like attracts like’, and the fact that most people like people like themselves. If your organization’s values and culture are strong, you may have a very homogenous workforce which is made up of many employees who are the right ‘fit’ for your organization and therefore are highly engaged simply because they do ‘fit’. Does that mean that whoever does the hiring and recruitment, those who deal with people who don’t even yet work for the company, have a hand in ensuring the workforce is engaged? More often than not, it is the Human Resources Department that actually manages much of the recruitment (gate keeping) for an organization and is also the department that conducts and employee engagement survey… however, I see Human Resources as a partner in engagement, but not the one responsible for it.

In the end, I’d say it takes two to tango and that both the employee and the employer have a role to play and are both responsible for employee engagement. I’m not even going to open the can of worms of talking about the role unions play in engagement… lets save that for another article!