How to stop HR from being so “scary”

HR isn’t all about discipline and dismissal but some employees aren’t so sure – here’s how you can convince them otherwise.

While HR has made phenomenal strides since its early days as ‘personnel’ some employees still seem to think the function is all about discipline and dismissal – so how do you convince them otherwise?

Fiona Ireland is the HR head at Trade Me – an organisation repeatedly recognized as one of the best workplaces in New Zealand – she says industry professionals should strive to connect with their employees.

“It’s always been important for me to build a team that doesn’t separate itself from the business and we actively get involved with whatever is happening so employees get to know us as people rather than a scary HR team,” she reveals.

“We make sure that we’re actually real people,” she told HRM. “We make an effort in socialising; we make an effort in getting involved and talking to people, we make an effort to engage with people when we’re not just telling them off.”

Wellington-based Ireland stresses that the team never tries to fake fitting in - “We don’t consciously go out of our way to make sure that we fit in, we just genuinely get involved so that has removed that scariness.”

Ireland acknowledges there are times when she and her HR team needs to be involved in performance management processes, disciplinary action and even dismissal but says the key is ensuring the function is seen as real.

“That means that we don’t hide in the corner, we sit in the middle of the floor like everybody else,” she reveals.

Another aspect to improving HR’s reputation, is trying to shrug off other negative perceptions.

“Sometimes HR teams can have reputations for being bottlenecks so I’m very mindful of that,” says Ireland.

“If there is something I feel very strongly about that hasn’t been followed in terms of a process, it’s about engaging with that manager and really talking through it and explaining the risks that they potentially could have if they choose to make a bad call or don’t take everything into consideration,” she explains.

“That means that they understand where I’m coming from rather than me just saying; ‘Hey, you didn’t sign this piece of paper or you didn’t tick this box,’ because that’s just wasted on managers.”

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