HR to act as moral guardian in tough times

by 18 May 2009

Employee welfare is back on the HR agenda alongside the economic downturn, and HR has a role to play in ensuring that organisations, individual managers and staff are held to account for upholding behaviours that go beyond a simple transactional relationship, according to an HR expert in the UK.

“The relative roles, relationships and capability of HR, the leadership team and line managers to deliver effective people management have never been less clear,” saidMarianne Huggett, associate director at The Work Foundation.

“If HR does not own the skills, health and wellbeing of the workforce and the ‘psychological deal’, who does? Is this a case of everyone does, so no-one is accountable? The relationship with employees is fragile and cannot be taken for granted.”

When job security is called into question and training budgets are tight, she said, the deal to engage staff looks decidedly one-sided.

As such, Huggett said it was important that someone notice and act when the values that underpin the “psychological contract” of employment are breached.

“This is not a comfortable role for HR, but this may be the most important one for HR in the future,” she said.

“This will require future HR leaders to have deep credibility and integrity. They will need to understand, as never before, the workings of the organisation and the financial model that underpins it, so they can steer change in a way that balances the needs of all stakeholders, including employees. They will need to be clear-thinking to step in and act quickly and diplomatically.”

Huggett, who is conducting research into the future of HR, said the root causes of the recession have undermined public and employee trust in corporations and other institutions.

“Building as much transparency and procedural justice into organisational decision-making and action will be an important part of re-establishing that trust,” she said.


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