human-1181577_640The perfect medium between a company and its employees, an entire department dedicated to keeping your employees engaged, or the secret henchmen of the boss, there to do all the dirty work for the guys at the top.

So, which is it?

The truth is, in a business world where leaders and managers are increasingly placing more and more faith in the best talent, Human Resources departments are slowly becoming one of the most crucial teams in the office.

In times of high unemployment, HR gets forgotten as a nuisance, where the bigger pool of employees and increased fear over job security tends to nullify productivity and talent shortage concerns. Yet, when things are booming, and the top talent has turned from putty in your hands to slippery soap, suddenly HR takes prominence.

Ask yourself, is this the kind of organisation you want to work for or even run? Instead, an HR team that focuses on talent first leaves you with an invigorated, productive workforce that is profitable regardless of the times. On the other hand, run an outdated, process orientated HR department and you’ll find yourself being left behind by your staff.

Meaningful ideas, meaningless in practice

Surveys? Sigh. Employee engagement programs? Snore. Dress down Fridays? Pull the other one.

One of the biggest gripes many employees have about HR is that they consistently push through programs and initiatives that come across as blatant attempts to plaster over bigger problems.

Half-cooked engagement programs, mandatory fun sessions and ill thought out surveys are all ineffective, and worse, they patronize your employees by wasting their time. It’s time to think about the benefits and initiatives that your workforce really cares about, and the things that provide real benefit to your business.

How? Well, it starts with having an HR department that really understand the team they work so closely with, before giving them the time to develop bespoke ideas that really work.

Generally, things like increased flexibility and providing genuine training have proven effective for both employees and companies, but the best HR teams will have the expertise and the time to identify specific gaps and plug them effectively.

They’re overloaded – and it shows

Since time immemorial, the perceived usefulness of HR has fluctuated. Currently, in a growth period with no disastrous impending skill shortages looming, many HR departments are still vastly overworked and underfunded.

In the wake of the recession, where unemployment increased and workers desperate for job security were plentiful, suddenly HR didn’t seem so necessary, which is why so many departments are still left short.

So overloaded with admin, legal and payroll, these departments no longer have time to be innovative, or really focus on bespoke packages that actually benefit the business and the people in it. This is often the source of many problems, from a lack of investment in individual staff right down to lackluster and half-baked benefits schemes.

In fact, it might even be time to split up the HR function altogether, leaving one side under the wing of the CFO while giving a second department the time and resource to add real benefit to the team.

They’re just puppets

For many employees, HR is seen as deceptive, being really just the friendly face of upper management and their meddling in all things you hold sacred.

But it really needn’t be this way. Why should your employee needs and ambitions be so different from the company’s? In many ways, it comes from hiring the right people in the first place, who fit into a culture of work and align with the company values. From here, it comes down to transparency and alignment with goals.

The truth is, if your workforce is so idealistically far from your upper management, it could be that your HR team really need to rethink their entire hiring strategy, or you may have a toxic environment that is indicative of a much wider problem.

They force through unnecessary process

Along with programs and projects that aren’t always popular with employees, many find themselves unhappy with the processes enforced on managers that can stifle creativity and lengthen everyone’s workload unnecessarily.

With the more traditional HR functions of day to day management and development being pushed out to line managers, the department is increasingly in control of more general strategy. Yet, they often have ambiguous authority over those that actually implement it.

This is what has primarily led to HR being seen as “disruptive”, getting involved in areas in which they’re seen as inexperienced, while forcing through due process that cripples and stagnates the workforce instead of rejuvenating it.

The answer? Make sure that your HR team is given the time and resources to understand the business fully, and ensure they liaise more closely with employees and managers to implement systems and change that actually benefits the business and the people who work for it.

They’re squeaky clean

One of the issues with many HR departments is that they’re seen as the point of contact for personal and professional disputes, discipline and initiatives, and so they are in many ways forced to present a cleaner than clean image of themselves.

This protects them from reproach and establishes their authority, but it also causes one big problem; it puts up a wall between them and the humans that they’re supposed to be in charge of resourcing.

With employers increasingly concerned over disputes, and HR increasingly overloaded with admin, many companies have forgotten the importance of hiring a people person to actually deal with their people.

They might be legal specialists, analysts, business professionals or admin whizzes, but companies often forget to hire communicators, or they nurture an environment that prevents them from communicating.

Building relationships is so central to this function, as it builds trust which enables the relationship between employees and their employers to be more than skin deep. That’s what allows proper and effective talent development.

They don’t understand the business

One of the biggest problems for many employees is that they see HR as muscling in on stuff that they don’t understand. And why should they?

Well, increasingly the acute value of a top HR professional is not their admin or legal experience, nor their people skills but their business acumen. At the end of the day, the most simple and important function in Human Resources is to make sure that your company has the best team possible, who are engaged and working singularly for the good of the business.

This is why companies now need to look beyond traditional HR leaders for their top jobs. Instead, hiring people who may have worked in other roles, or who display deep commercial awareness may take priority.

Once they’re in, engage them with the most important discussions and give them time to understand all different facets of the business. Only once they really understand the business inside out can this ‘meddling’ start to actually provide value.