HR teams can find themselves in a crossfire between employer and employee. At first blush, the HR department recruits, enables, and fosters employee growth, and so would appear as a service for the people. And yet, contrary to this, it is those in the higher leadership ranks who regularly seek HR counsel and guidance and ultimately hire and pay these HR professionals.
How does HR effectively balance the services it offers to the employer and the employees?
Balance can be difficult to determine and perceived differently in varying contexts. For example, in a business where there is a strong union environment, would it make sense for HR to provide additional support to managers and leadership in order to level the playing field, so to speak? If so, would employees feel limited or disinclined to express issues they have to HR?
A workforce perception that HR teams are only there to help “higher up” already exists, with one study finding that 70% of employees do not trust their personnel department. If we look at it from this perspective, HR teams need to seek ways they can recalibrate the balance so employees trust in HR’s neutrality and feel comfortable communicating their issues. A fundamental aspect of Human Resources is to be a connection between management and staff, and if they are being iced out by employees – who make up the majority of any company – then they will not be able to effectively enhance the workforce experience or workplace culture. Conversely, managers and leadership must also be able to trust HR’s neutrality and advice, viewing them as a strategic partner in meeting company goals and objectives.
Is there a ‘default’ view HR professionals can take when caught in the middle?
Simply put, their job is to help guide leaders on how they can optimize their company through their staff while also supporting workforce health, growth, and development. In this sense, HR teams are always advocating for the people, because those same people make up the foundation that buttresses managers, leadership, and business outcomes.
With the contemporary workforce undergoing a great rebirth of their outlook on work and what they seek to gain from it, more people want to work in a person-centric environment. A 2022 report by Gallup found 61% of respondents said greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing was a very important consideration when looking for a new job. Both attributes are key HR services, and it could be argued the true balance HR should seek leans more in favor of employees. By being consciously people-centric, this could ultimately benefit the employer through an engaged, energized, and dedicated workforce.
The reality is, there can be no one set approach. Companies vary in their needs and organizational dynamics, and so HR must seek to calibrate the unique balance for each company, department, division, team, or individual with whom they work.