If you’re going into HR, you have to know that the field doesn’t exactly have the greatest reputation among most corporate employees. HR is viewed as a roadblock, a hindrance, a department to be dealt with and avoided as much as possible on the road to getting real business done.
Of course, this attitude hurts both employees and the company itself. HR exists for a reason and often has highly-trained, well-educated staff who can make valuable contributions on both personal and professional levels.
If you’re on your way to getting a degree in human resources, you should think about your professors and that program the same way. You don’t want to graduate and repeat the common pitfalls that people love to hate with HR departments, so pay attention to the instructors and use them as resources to keep you from repeating the mistakes that make people love to hate HR.
Bad Job Descriptions
HR sometimes attracts ire from employees before they even become employees. Inaccurate or misleading job descriptions prevent the company from getting the staff they need, not to mention preventing potential employees from finding the jobs they want. Infamously, many HR departments in technology companies establish arbitrary application requirements that are impossible to meet… 5 years of experience in a language only invented 2 years ago, for instance.
All this boils down to a failure to understand the business and roles within it. More communication with managers and other staff, often as simple as asking for a review of the final description, can set you up for success and help you avoid being a punchline on Hacker News.
Demotivational Morale Building
You’ve probably seen the demotivational posters cropping up around the Internet… inspiring, breathtaking photos captioned with sayings like “Teamwork: Together, twenty of us can do the work of one person.”
A lot of HR morale building exercises fall into this category. They spur eye-rolling and derision and if they actually help people bond it’s usually over how ridiculous the effort was. You can keep from falling into this trap by being in touch with what your staff like to do and catering to those preferences. Most importantly, avoid making morale building exercises mandatory… if you have to force people to go have fun, it just isn’t the real thing.
No one likes filling out forms, but for compliance and other purposes, sometimes it’s necessary. When it’s not necessary, it’s a direct cost to the corporation and an irritant to employees.
Work to reduce duplication in any paperwork the HR department generates and seek to streamline any forms that are mandatory. Better yet, work on ways to pre-fill forms instead of allowing it to eat into the man hours of the employees… if HR is generating more work for the business instead of reducing it, the department has lost its way.
Outdated Employee Handbooks
It’s a pattern that the very first HR person a company hires puts hours and hours into writing up a comprehensive employee handbook, and then no one revises it for years and years. Bad information ends up on the employee’s desk on day one, and it’s hard to overcome that first impression.
Increasingly, internal websites are serving as better and easier to update employee resource references. If your company isn’t using one, it’s time to look into it.
Lack of Documentation
Only slightly better than outdated or incorrect references are no references at all. When it comes time for an employee to file a training request or to look up benefits information, they want it to be fast and easy. When HR hasn’t documented the procedures or policies, it becomes laborious. If your department isn’t producing friendly, easy-to-read translations of benefits agreements and policy documentation, it’s time to start.
Incomplete and Inadequate Policy
But what if you don’t have policies on the topics the employee is looking for answers on? This is a high-level HR failure, but one that is all-too-common. By leaving the lines muddy and failing to set corporate policy, it not only leaves staff confused, but also sets you up for the next failure on the list.
Fairness is a major concept for HR and a failure to be fair is something that employees can sniff out in a heartbeat. Studies show that people are more concerned with the perception of fairness in performance appraisals, for example, than in actual numeric fairness. Arbitrary actions on the part of human resources may not be the result of explicit bias, but they can certainly be perceived that way.
Incomplete and inadequate policies fuel these perceptions, so building those policies to cover the situations HR commonly faces is important. But equally important is applying those policies in all cases and without bias.
Nothing can poison a work environment as quickly as a thoughtless new hire. They can generate all manner of problems—whether you brought in someone who is not a good personality fit for the team, or didn’t consider the skillset they bring in, or pay them a much higher rate than current staff with similar capabilities, making a new hire without looking at all the angles is not going to win you any friends in the business.
This is a particularly insidious pitfall to avoid, because the pressure to bring on new staff also is generated by the same people who will be griping about it if you get it wrong. Resist the pressure, and work to perform a full-spectrum evaluation of the new hire and the potential impacts before you pull the trigger.
Employees view the right type of training as a valuable benefit, one that both makes their job easier, increases their personal value and self-perception, and signals that the company finds them valuable enough to invest in. Weak training sessions that don’t actually provide useful information or that do not deal with the employee’s core job skills is just a waste of time to them.
As an HR professional, you’ll find your fair share of complications when selecting or designing training programs. Management will want you to keep costs down and to build generic exercises that service a maximum number of staff. You’ll have to fight to make sure curriculums satisfy both management and staff.
Nobody enjoys being critiqued, but it’s even worse when the annual evaluation includes elements that don’t accurately reflect the underlying job skills or performance. Employees often have a highly developed sense of their own value and how their positions are best performed. When an HR functionary wanders in from another floor and tells them they are doing it wrong, it’s hard not to be skeptical or even angry. When arbitrary elements are included, it’s a morale disaster, as companies like Microsoft found when experimenting with stack-ranking systems for evaluating employees.
College is a great place to learn about appropriate methods of evaluating employees and developing strategies for discussing problem points with people without putting them on the defensive. Use your time to learn how to conduct appropriate and useful staff evaluations before you get out into the real world work force.