Do People Hate HR? [Infographic]
Do people hate HR? If you’re in HR, it’s understandable to have a bit of a persecution complex after reading articles like this one. It’s hard to feel valued in the face of strong negative opinions, as when Bill writes: “Dealing with HR people is like talking to cave dwellers. Next time you find yourself frustrated by HR, just be thankful you are smart or ambitious enough not to work there.”
Here’s the question, though: does Bill speak for most employees, or is he just an outspoken representative of the minority? To find out, BambooHR conducted a survey among 1112 small and medium-sized businesses with 26–1000 employees across all industries.
HR Is Ignored, Not Hated (and That’s an Important Difference)
Does it matter how employees feel about HR? While this isn’t the first time we’ve asked what people think about HR, our most recent survey found interesting connections between employees’ exposure to HR and their impression of HR’s effectiveness at solving problems. While employee sentiment towards HR isn’t always an indicator of HR’s capability, it can make a difference in the support HR receives.
When we asked how capable HR was at solving their organization’s most pressing business issues, 49 percent of those who weren’t in HR roles selected Somewhat Capable—the middle choice on the five-point scale. This indicates that the majority of people outside HR think HR has little effect, if any, on business outcomes.
This perception aligns with the preventative nature of much of HR’s mission—it’s not in human nature to celebrate the status quo because things could have been worse. Cassie Whitlock, director of HR for BambooHR, explained it this way in a recent webinar:
“As I like to say, the fan is always on, and something is always about to hit it. It could be a compliance issue uncovered in an audit. It could be an employee complaint or workplace injury. Whatever it is, it’s headed right for us, and if we aren’t prepared, the rest of the organization sees chaos coming from the HR office—whether or not HR is originally responsible for the problem. So we’ve learned to protect the fan as best we can.”
Seen from this perspective, anonymity is the first victory an HR department can have. If your HR department is going unnoticed, then you’ve done a first-rate job at protecting the fan—you’re responding quickly to employee needs, staying ahead of compliance issues, and creating seamless transactions that leave your employees nothing to complain about.
It Takes HR to Know HR
When it comes to getting buy-in for important people measures, though, no news isn’t always good news. So what does it take for HR to get positive attention and for employees like Bill to stop saying they hate HR?
The answer could simply be, “more HR”: in the survey, organizations with more HR professionals were more likely to rate HR’s contribution as positive. 51 percent of respondents from organizations with no HR rated HR as Completely Incapable or Not Very Capable—an attitude that may indicate why they don’t employ HR professionals. This percentage drops to 30 percent in organizations with a single HR representative.
There’s also a corresponding trend in positive perception: 54 percent of respondents from organizations with five or more HR employees rated them as Capable or Very Capable, compared to just 11 percent of organizations with no HR professionals.
HR issues are hard to take on alone, especially as an organization adds more employees and new layers of complexity. But if employers make similar investments in HR personnel and technology as they grow, their HR departments can shift from merely “defending the fan” to making a difference in employees’ lives.
The Talent-Management Trifecta
These above-the-baseline initiatives are more important than ever in a strong job market where employees have their choice of employers—and it shows in the survey results. When we asked about the top roadblocks companies face, the top three overall were the following:
- Work/Life Balance
- Employee Recognition
You could consider this the talent-management trifecta. Organizations that optimize in these three areas are taking the first steps toward making a great place to work; make a great place to work, and your recruiting and retention numbers will benefit. It’s an upward spiral, and it takes HR to perform the kind of people work necessary to make it happen.
Here are three ways HR departments can leverage their unique position to start building better workplaces and go from ignored (or worse) to highly valued:
Develop a Culture of Balance
It takes more than a few posters to develop or change a culture. Culture is the sum total of all the attitudes and interactions between people in your organization. This includes the official company line and the unspoken messages leaders send through their actions.
Work/life balance is a large enough topic for several blog posts. But it helps to start with these questions:
- When employees take time off, how do our teams handle work in their absence?
- Do we have benefits and policies to support employees’ physical, mental, social, and financial health?
- Do office hours end at the office, or do our management practices encourage an always-on lifestyle?
- Do we have a productive amount of socializing at work?
- Can coworkers connect without distracting each other?
The answers to these questions will differ depending on your industry and your organization’s mission, vision, and values. But to earn and keep your employees’ trust (and their will to work for you), it’s essential that the way your culture plays out from day to day matches the way you describe your culture to employees and candidates.
Go Beyond Your Gut—Measure and Report
HR is essential for good communication—and we’re not just talking about removing friction from the time-off process or collecting signatures. Today’s interpersonal conflicts and poor culture can become tomorrow’s turnover. Developing and reporting on metrics let leadership realize and respond to their organization’s needs.
Are your employees satisfied? One way to know is to ask them, but asking doesn’t guarantee a truthful answer. Unless they’re beyond caring, an employee will likely have a hard time opening up about a bad manager if they expect the manager to find out. Self-preservation and self-interest generally trump the desire to improve the organization.
Using tools like anonymous employee satisfaction surveys helps employees feel free to send honest messages about their needs. And with the right tools to analyze and present this data, HR can communicate the current situation of the organization at a macro level. This is essential as your employees separate into teams and departments and it becomes impossible for everyone to interact regularly with everyone else.
HR’s reporting doesn’t have to stop with employee satisfaction—from turnover to benefits participation to , HR can provide leadership with accurate, current data on the situation. Empowering HR with the tech to measure these people factors frees time otherwise spent on administrative tasks—time for leaders to make great decisions, and time for managers to develop their fields of expertise.
Manage Performance With Development In Mind
Employees want their work to count for something. They want to know how their efforts make a difference. Enabling regular performance management conversations between managers and employees helps provide opportunities for this recognition at all levels.
When an employee gets compliments from their manager for their direct contribution to a project during a one-on-one meeting, it shows that the organization values their individual work. And when the organization supports employees in setting and achieving long-term goals, employees know that their organization values them enough to provide development opportunities.
HR is Worth It
So do people hate HR? When you take the time to automate people transactions and optimize your employees’ experience, you can provide a memorable experience that resolves your organization’s most pressing problems.
For more details on the top challenges in your specific industry, download our survey infographic here.
Get caught up every month on all things HR. Don't worry, we promise we won't spam you.
Brian Anderson expertly decodes all things HR, drawing on a decade of technical writing in the business organization industry to provide editorial support to internal and external learning programs at BambooHR. His writing explores the different motivations that shape the employee experience and the psychology of human resources.