• HR has major PR job to do as survey reveals it fails to promote successes

  • 4 Jan 2016
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Quarter of employees still ‘don’t know’ what the department does

HR is still hiding its light under a bushel as many employees (25 per cent) say they ‘don’t know’ what the function does, according to a survey conducted by YouGov on behalf of People Management.

The survey, with 1,150 employees, revealed that 48 per cent of employees haven’t had contact with HR in the past year, and for those that had the majority (53 per cent) had made contact for ‘transactional reasons’ like changing pay details or holiday entitlements.

The findings suggest the profession has a visibility and engagement problem, especially when it comes to ensuring the impact of the department’s strategic work is recognised. For example, employees deemed HR’s influence on key areas such as employer culture to be lacking with 45 per cent of respondents reporting that the department’s role was "not useful" when shaping the organisation’s culture. And the importance of workplace culture to a company’s fortunes is clear from incidents such as the emissions scandals at VW, where its chairman blamed a culture that enabled “a chain of errors” for the fiasco.

A follow up poll with 150 PM readers found that HR professionals recognise that their workers think their main responsibilities are transactional rather than strategic, such as dealing with pay (72 per cent) and holiday (70 per cent), recruitment (85 per cent) and disciplinaries (85 per cent).

Comments from respondents to this secondary survey also suggest potential reasons behind these findings. Revealing responses to the question, “where is HR and L&D letting itself down?” included, “we don't communicate enough about what we are doing and where we are aiming for our business to be”, and, “we’re too remote - the shared services model is old hat and flawed”.

One respondent strongly criticised the impact of the Ulrich model on the profession’s reputation, commenting: “The Ulrich model has been a disaster, fragmenting the function. Now the pre-Ulrich holistic HR people - who became business partners - are retiring those that are left are stuck in their process silos physically and mentally.”

A common response to the PM readers' survey was that HR are “out of touch” because the function fails to engage with the majority of the workforce opting to work mostly with mid- or senior-level management. However, poll respondents also highlighted the difficult balancing act HR must perform working with all levels of employees in the organisation, which can undermine their non-partisan position.

You can read the full-length feature in January’s edition of PM titled ‘UK employee survey: 48 per cent of staff haven’t talked to HR in the last year’.

And you can also view the full findings for the two YouGov surveys, with employees and PM readers.

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  • I am not very surprised with the response given that many organisations have downsized their HR function. The line manager is now the interface with the employees on many "traditional" HR functions. I agree that HR needs to keep in touch with the front line teams, however, in my last organisation we had a ratio of one HRM to each 500 employees so it was impossible to have a direct contact with each team member. The fact that 53% had no contact with HR could be a positive sign that we are influencing the leaders around good people practice and employees only feel the need to contact HR if their line manager cannot/does not deal with the matter effectively.