HR practitioners must actively seek key areas for improvement for themselves, their roles, and the company, taking action to defend their role where possible.
Overcoming Top Myths in HR
- By Brad Flipse
- Jun 01, 2008
What makes the best in HR really the best?
Human resources is a complex,multifaceted
field that requires professionals to
have the ability to juggle priorities and
excel at a number of tasks, from the sometimes tedious
to the often strategic. It takes knowing what to home in
on and what to delegate, staying on top of the latest
trends in compensation and always having a finger on the
pulse of employee relations. And, often, with so many
misconceptions about HR, it involves staying ahead of
the curve through continuous education in an attempt
to drive what the role will entail for the company.
Being in HR requires having a number of talents and
is not for the faint of heart. The role brings with it the potential
to make a big impact on the lives of individuals
working for the company—its most important assets—
and, simultaneously, can leave managers feeling less than
appreciated when contributions to the bottom line are
questioned. Perceptions of HR as a cost center and others,
explained below, are just a few of the myths that often
surround HR and can prevent practitioners and companies
from getting the most from this important role.
HR as a Cost Center
The view of HR as a cost center may be one of the hardest
to overcome. How executives view the HR department
and its role often plays a huge part in its perception
and function, including whether the job is managed in
house to begin with. HR frequently must take every opportunity
to be its own proponent in providing greater
education on the value of its offerings.
Other companies realize that HR managers contribute
more directly in taking care of their most valuable
assets, handling a range of responsibilities, including: recruiting;
interviewing; providing, presenting, and delivering
medical, dental, vision, life, and other ancillary benefits;
job training; instituting programs for retention and
growth of employees; establishing tools and guidance for
management reviews; and reviewing and selecting technology
to support HR functions, to name a few. Each of
these, in fact, contributes greatly to the bottom line when
all hard and soft costs of doing business are considered.
Group benefits, for instance, are a major part of the
compensation employers offer to entice and retain productive
and reliable employees and maintain the organization’s
competitive nature. The methods by which
these compensation elements are derived and presented
are key to a company’s success. In retaining good employees,
companies can save thousands, if not more, in
rehiring and training costs.HR must be prepared to justify
its case with a strong knowledge of its employee base
and a rationalization of these types of obvious and not-so-obvious costs.
HR’s Role: Strategic and/or Tactical
Whether dictated by management, assumed by the practitioner,
a function of “fighting fires” on a daily basis, or
a combination of the above,HR’s role in the organization
is all too often tactical over strategic, often to the dissatisfaction
of practitioners themselves. This point is illustrated
by USC Professor Edward E. Lawler III, who noted
that HR professionals reported spending only 23 percent
of their time in 2005 “being a strategic business partner”—
no more than they reported in 1995. And line
managers, he found, said HR is far less involved in strategy
than HR thinks it is.
Though company culture often sets the stage, HR
practitioners must actively seek key areas for improvement
for themselves, their roles, and the company, taking
action to defend their role where possible.
Employee Capabilities/Technology’s Prevalence
If employees and executives are guilty of downplaying
HR’s role, often so, too, is HR in assessing employees’ ability
to manage information. Computers first appeared in
schools more than 12 years ago and today are used by 75
percent of Americans to access the Internet for three
hours a day, on average. Still, many in HR are reluctant
to give up basic self-service benefit management tasks
that would save a tremendous amount of time and allow
them to better address company objectives.
While it is true that online benefits management can
be a scary prospect for those who may be less computer
savvy, having access to employee benefits online is another
way to provide greater employee satisfaction through
accessibility and choice. In fact, many employees will expect
online access, especially today’s younger generation
for whom iPods and IM are part of everyday life.
Self-service HR has become so invaluable that a September
2006 Forrester Research report termed it “an essential
core application” for businesses. The report pointed to
the ability of Human Resource Management Systems
(HRMS) to help manage personnel costs, operate efficient
business processes, comply with regulations and manage
legal exposures, and optimize the value of human capital.
Not All HR tools Are Created Equal
Another way that HR can heighten its role and increase
strategic input is by using technology to better access,
manage, and report on information. But as with any industry,
it is hard to cut through the clutter and hype surrounding
proposed solutions to select the best technology
to meet organizational needs.
Though one provider may declare it offers self-service
capabilities, for instance, it may not be the same level
needed or offered by others, providing disappointing results.
For an HR manager who has met with false promises
in the past, doing the homework on proposed solutions
is even more important.
Selecting the best tools requires assessing key factors,
such as the ability to:
•Grow and scale with the organization
• Provide full ownership of the data
• Simplify processes through wizards
• Provide full security for backups, servers, added
protective layers, etc. and transfer data within secure encrypted
sessions, secure sockets layer (SSL) (128 bit encryption),
or be encrypted prior to being sent
• Provide authority to decide who will be allowed access
and to what degree
• Offer a robust eligibility engine for company enrollment
activities and rules
• Link with carriers with clean, validated transfers,
beyond basic ANSI files
• Offer 24-hour service from a direct contact who
Enjoying the Challenges
In conclusion, though managing human resources is certainly
not without its challenges, perhaps individuals are
drawn to this role in the first place because of “the challenge”
and the opportunity to make a difference at companies
and in the lives of individuals. Frequently, HR
managers can accomplish more and further prove their
worth to the company by relying more heavily on employees
and technology that can help them to focus on
the most important issues.
This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.