Has our traditional understanding of Human Resources departments become outdated? Are these departments even necessary anymore? Is there a real understanding of what the purpose is and why they exist in the first place? I have been reflecting on these questions lately- sparked by my own experiences with HR and recent news stories. A quick Wiki search produces the following basic definition: A human-resources department of an organization performs human resource management, overseeing various aspects of employment, such as compliance with labor law and employment standards, administration of employee benefits, and some aspects of recruitment and dismissal.

It’s Time to Redefine Human Resources

That definition is great in theory, but how often do staff members (misguidedly) treat the department as workplace therapy, venting, complaining, crying and tattling? I will be the first to admit I have been guilty of some of these very things myself. Work can be frustrating, and sometimes you need a shoulder to cry on, that shoulder, however, should not be HR’s.

When I started my first “big girl” job, my mother stressed to me that HR isn’t this third-party entity that you’ve envisioned, they are in fact employees of the company you work for and have been hired to protect the company, not necessarily you. The system was created to ensure organizations comply as needed to avoid legal retaliation. Maybe that’s a bleak idea of HR, but it’s important to be realistic. There is an episode of the TV comedy, “The Office,” (if you’ve never seen it, do yourself several favors and binge it) where the character, mild-mannered HR Manager Toby, reveals the “filing system” he keeps for Dwight’s never-ending complaints against Jim. It’s a trash box.

It’s Time to Re-Adjust Human Resources

Depending on the company’s dynamics, some HR Departments wield mighty power, but in many cases, they are merely the fall guy/gal, the unfortunate messenger of bad news or the puppet of upper management. If you’ve ever worked in a small organization where the founder, owner or long-standing leader is still present, they, a lot of times set the tone, despite the HR department’s best efforts to be even-handed and fair. Sometimes it’s the company’s culture that is to blame.

In this era of #MeToo, we’ve heard far too many stories of women (and some men) who have filed complaints (sometimes multiple times) of sexual assault, harassment, discrimination and abuse to their HR departments, years before the stories finally breaking and making news. The women went to HR, and nothing was done. I wonder how many cases were the HR representatives actually unable to do anything? How many times did HR’s procedures tie their hands of a timely resolution? How often were the complaints determined not to be serious?

It’s Time to Rethink Human Resources

The advent of tech start-ups and small businesses warrant a great need for HR. Brilliant minds who create popular apps, don’t always understand the importance of benefits and onboarding processes. We need to change the entire scope of HR departments. First, departments with just one person for a staff of over 70, is ridiculous.

Better feeling employees make better decisions and have healthier workplace relationships — which would only help the bottom line.

How are they expected to get anything done? HR departments should have an employment legal expert (part-time or full-time), a person to break down what is and isn’t legal. This person could also manage ethics within the organization. There also needs to be a benefits specialist. Just because someone is good at recruiting doesn’t mean they can handle the nauseating details and constant changes in benefits. Nothing is worse than asking your HR rep to explain your benefits better and have them provide you with a daunting booklet consisting of charts and an 800 number to a helpline. Recruiters are needed, of course; there is a science to bringing in the best candidates. Finally, would it be such a horrible idea for companies to offer actual therapy to their staff? Onsight, or vouchers to outside mental health clinics. I would even welcome mindful meditation options. Better feeling employees make better decisions and have healthier workplace relationships — which would only help the bottom line. This is of course if the company can afford it, but with the exception of small businesses, in most cases, I’m sure they can.

We do not need to get rid of HR teams. However, if they are just figureheads paralyzed by aggressive C-Suite bullies and an abundance of time-consuming impromptu “meetings,” if they are incapable of communicating the benefits provided to staff, do not understand the law or the nuanced optics and low morale that can be the result of lackluster results or no resolution for actual complaints, what is the point?

Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash
Has our traditional understanding of Human Resources departments become outdated?Maybe it's time to rethink Human Resources.