Human resources departments often have a reputation for being hard to approach or understand. Building relationships with employees is a critical step for a successful HR department. Here’s how.
Don’t Get Too Close
This may seem counterintuitive to building relationships, but when HR becomes close friends with some staff, the other staff members feel HR doesn’t operate fairly. If the HR manager goes to lunch daily with Barb in accounting, and then Steven in accounting has an issue with Barb, he will feel like he can’t get fair treatment from HR — even if another HR person handles it. HR needs to build good relationships with others, and that means staying at arm’s length from everyone as well.
Create an Open-Door Policy
Make sure employees know they can drop by for any reason — to ask a question about benefit changes, or to ask for help with a manager. Certainly, there will be times HR isn’t available, but always follow up. HR is supposed to support the business through helping employees be the best they can be, but they can’t do that if they aren’t responsive to employee needs. Get out and walk the floor. Make sure you know the people in your areas of responsibility. If employees know the HR manager, they are more likely to speak up.
Be Careful About Levels
Absolutely, HR needs to respond quickly to the senior team, but if HR is to build relationships with the entire staff, they need to be responsive to the entry-level people. When a junior employee complains about bullying from a manager, HR needs to investigate the charge, and not just dismiss it out of hand because the manager is a high-level person with consistently high performance. Company values apply to the entire company, and it’s HR’s job to make sure that happens.
Explain, Explain, Explain
One of the reasons people strongly dislike HR is that they don’t understand why HR does what it does. For instance, starting December 1, 2016, federal regulations are changing so that employees must earn $47,476 per year to qualify for exemption from overtime. If HR just announces, “You now have to clock in and clock out, and don’t take your laptop home without permission,” employees will be confused and some will be offended — it will feel like a demotion. Instead, they need to explain why the changes are happening, and how to approach it.
Likewise, with health insurance, affirmative action reports, sexual harassment training and many other things for which HR is responsible, explaining the purpose of the form, or the meeting or the increased cost can go a long way toward building trusting relationships with HR. If you don’t explain, employees think you’re being nosey, rude or cheap. None of these things are good for the health of the company.
It’s easy for HR to get discouraged and depressed — a good portion of the job is dealing with problems. Still, it’s critical to remain positive and trusting of employees. Sometimes it means listening to an employee blow off steam. Sometimes it means looking for a solution when most people think solutions don’t exist. If you can do that, good relationships will naturally develop.