HR’s image challenge

A new year is an opportunity to look back as well as look forward. In a way, People Management’s poll of more than 1,100 UK employees regarding their perceptions of their HR departments offers a bit of both.

Many of the findings of the survey are broadly positive. HR is becoming a more trusted and established function in the eyes of employees at all levels, and is showing more willingness to innovate and rethink policies and practices of the past, with a greater focus on value and outcomes. HR processes are generally seen as robust and well-respected, if not always liked. However, there remains a fairly significant disconnect between HR and employees, who lack regular exposure to HR professionals as well as a deeper understanding of the value HR is bringing to their business.

HR has always sat in a unique place when compared to other functions. It touches everyone in an organisation, and needs to closely engage with, and be part of, management, as well as supporting and understanding the wider workforce.  Attitudes to HR can clearly be affected by context – if an organisation is downsizing or the economy (and recruitment) overall is down, HR will be seen less as adding value and more as an administrative function dealing with the costs of the employees, who themselves will be regarded by management more in terms of cost than value.

But whatever the context, in HR and L&D we need to understand the organisation, its dynamics, and the challenges and needs of the workforce in human terms. We need to balance judgements and decision-making for the short and long term, and weigh them against key principles well beyond the notion of people just as cost.

So we need to take heed of how employees as well as management view us. And if they feel we are remote and purely an administrative function, we need to get out there, engage and fulfil our role in supporting and connecting with the workforce. We also have more to do in putting people at the heart of the business agenda, to make the case for long-term investment in people and skills alongside investment in the workplace and automation. And we must continue to educate business leaders on the strategic value of HR and L&D – that will help them properly recognise strategic HR when they see it, and to ask for more of it.

Happily, we are moving beyond the historic and inward-looking debate about having a ‘seat at the table’ or how to be at the ‘heart of the business’. These are manifestations of HR’s influence, not an end in themselves. But image is important, particularly when we are trying to ensure the brightest and best people are attracted into the profession, and in growing our wider influence in economies everywhere.

These points are also at the heart of the agenda for the CIPD. Raising our impact and voice beyond the profession is part of promoting HR and the value of what we do. Our programme of work on the Profession for the Future is about understanding the principles that enable better and more balanced decision-making, and understanding this in the context of the changing world of work. These are big themes, and something we will be engaging on with all of you in 2016.

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