As more and more companies transition to a hybrid version of remote work and office work, many people are having a hard time adjusting. Thankfully, the human resources department is around to help you get back up on your feet.
But wait, can you trust HR? Aren’t they basically company “informers”? Sadly, there’s a lot of differing opinions about what HR stands for in a company.
But the truth may be much simpler.
What Does HR Stand For?
At its most basic, dictionary definition, HR is the department in charge of an organization’s employee life cycle, from recruitment and training to retention, termination, and everything else in between.
They’re also usually in charge of payroll processing, employee benefits, enforcing company policies, doling out disciplinary actions, and so on and so forth. HR also encourages employee growth by providing both employees and managers with the right kind of training they need to get their job done more effectively, usually with continuing education programs and/or work seminars designed to improve a person’s professional skills.
HR is also responsible for employee retention by enacting company-wide policies and hosting company events – like retreats, outings, team building exercises, and the like – that are designed to boost workplace morale and foster teamwork and cooperation between rank-and-file employees, their line managers, and C-level executives.
Ostensibly, HR also handles employee complaints in the workplace, maintaining a safe workplace environment for all.
Often, HR will work as a neutral arbiter to both employers and employees, enforcing company policies and holding those responsible for violations accountable for their actions. HR will handle complaints ranging from everyday accusations of toxic work environments to serious allegations like harassment or discrimination.
But far beyond simple punishment, HR needs to satisfy both parties while maintaining morale and overall efficiency of both parties. Often, HR will have to find a solution that can address the main issue at hand, penalize those who need to be penalized without making them feel excluded, having the aggrieved party feel vindicated.
Of course, more serious allegations will often lead to one party being punished over the other, but at the end of the day, HR seeks to find recourses for complaints, serious or otherwise, without having to bring in lawyers or legal representatives.
But What Does HR Stand For?
Although the above is the textbook definition of what HR is, many employees may disagree, and some may even have a very negative idea of what HR stands for.
The employee dissatisfaction with HR often stems from the department’s image as an “informer” (more on this later), the biggest influencers in terms of HR’s reputation actually stems from upper management, and it’s usually because of the economy.
Research has shown that C-level executives and upper management have an overwhelmingly negative outlook toward HR during times of economic depression. This is because HR’s roles of job hiring, retention and training became completely moot: companies won’t be hiring because od budget cuts, employees will often stay put because of the stability of a day job, and training will most likely be put on hold as the company goes into survival mode.
Executives can’t just shut down an HR department, but their views on the role and function of the entire department become skewed toward seeing them either as a nuisance at best, or at worst, a redundant and unnecessary expenditure.
Meanwhile, employees don’t look to favorably toward HR because of the department’s perceived reputation as being duplicitous, i.e. many employees still see HR’s employee facing persona to be a trick meant to lower a person’s emotional defenses so that HR can swoop in, find fault, then fire them. Unfortunately, this has happened in some companies, with some employees reporting abusive or exploitative HR practices in their previous employers. Thankfully reports of these are few and far between.
That being said, it’s still a practice that has survived criticism and changing times. Although a completely fair and neutral arbiter between employee and management may be far off, you should be happy to know that some HR practitioners are willing to work on it.
HR: Friend or Foe?
The debate rages on: doe HR stands for employees or companies? The arguments for both sides hold water.
For people who believe that HR stands for companies, their reasoning is simple: they aren’t independent, third-party contractors, they are officials in a company and thus represent the company’s best interests. Meanwhile, employees want to believe that HR’s primary function is to represent employee rights and interests and serve as the unified face of the work force to upper management.
But the truth of the matter is: both sides are correct.
HR has the unenviable job of representing both management and employees, and they need to maintain an unbiased role in the company. Believe it or not, HR is never your foe: they just need to enforce policies that benefit the large majority of the workforce.
Though it may seem unfair at times, the truth of the matter is any disciplinary action taken against an offending party, be they manager or rank-and-file, is done in accordance with internal policies.
But that, of course, depends on the HR practitioner. They need to ask themselves: am I representing the company or the employees? Once they decide that, they need to look at the company policies in place and see if it’s in line with their vision of how HR ought to be.
A successful HR practitioner needs to hold people accountable regardless of their position, while maintaining everyone’s payrolls and benefits, boosting morale, hiring new talent, continuing the training of current employees, and so much more.
So if you ask what HR stands for, you should know: they stand for everyone.