How To Put The Human In Human Resources


The Human Resources organization should be the most humane department in your company; after all, it has the word “human” right there in its name. Yet, according to research done by Zety, a publisher of guides and articles for job seekers, the idea of humanity is missing from many HR departments. The study asked about 1,000 American workers to share their thoughts on HR, yielding some startling facts about employees’ opinions of this core function.

According to the study, 37% of people wouldn’t report being sexually harassed at work, and 43% wouldn’t report discrimination. That’s disconcerting, especially because we are often told during onboarding that HR is the place to go when we’re experiencing things that are counter to the company’s values.

No matter how many “woke” corporate ad campaigns we’re seeing, the study revealed a troubling and pervasive distrust of the role of HR among employees.Nearly seven in 10 respondents did not believe that HR takes the side of the employee. So the fear of getting HR involved is greater than the fear of doing nothing and potentially working under duress and considerable stress—which undermines both an individual’s career success as well as the overall success of the company.

HR Acuity’s 2019 Employee Experience Survey provides further insights behind employees’ reluctance to seek support from HR, including:

  • Fear of retaliation. 46% of the respondents said they feared retaliation if they reported their problems. The economic instability of 2020 has surely only heightened this fear.
  • Lack of objectivity. 39% feared their complaint would not be dealt with fairly.
  • Gender bias. Issues reported by men were 26% more likely to be investigated, and comments received from the participants indicated that women’s complaints are more likely to be ignored.

The Zety survey revealed that the only topics employees feel very comfortable discussing with HR are related to compensation and benefits. A full 82% of respondents confirmed this. 

Some of these concerns could be the result of a disconnect between the prevailing HR policies of the past and the massive shifts in how employees and employers work together today. For example, Bereavement scored shockingly low with a whopping 87% saying they wouldn’t discuss it with HR. This underreporting makes sense, though. It’s not unusual for companies to have policies that require “proof” of a death in cases of paid time off for bereavement. This un-empathic approach only exacerbates the grief an employee is feeling. And for employees currently dealing with illness and loss because of Covid-19, this is an especially difficult time to feel a lack of support from HR.

The data from those studies doesn’t jibe with compassionate policies some innovative organizations are instituting, such as unlimited PTO. Glassdoor identified 20 companies that are offering unlimited PTO, but the lack of faith in HR indicates that those innovative organizations may be the exception rather than the rule.

In the past, employees were measured by the hours they put in, and the management style of the day emphasized command and control rather than focusing on goals and coaching. This year has mobilized Americans to demand sweeping changes to ensure equality and to celebrate the unique traits that make us humans. But many of those changes will only happen if Human Resources policies are brought into the twenty-first century.

So what can HR do to put the humanity in their organization? The first step is to evaluate all existing policies as they relate to the new world of work, being candid about the revelations the corporate world is now facing in the wake of the pandemic and WFH as well as social turning points including Black Lives Matter, the recent Supreme Court ruling that protects LGBTQ employees from discrimination, and the MeToo movement. Don’t just turn the Employee Handbook over to the legal department and ask them to make sure you’re in compliance. Real humanity in Human Resources requires more than just trying to protect the organization from a lawsuit.

For true success, review your people policies and ask these two questions:

  • Is this policy aligned with our corporate mission, vision, values and behaviors?
  • Will this policy enhance our employee attraction, engagement and retention, ensuring that all of our people can bring their true selves to work?

For policies where the answer to one or both of these questions is “no,” it’s time to refine and renew the wording so it supports the organization and your talent.

The distrust of HR won’t go away immediately. It takes time and truth to build trust. But there has never been a more salient moment for ensuring that HR can become the department where human is not just part of the title, it’s an actual promise of humane treatment.

By: William Arruda

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