HR: Do we really need it?

HR Do we Need It_Dimmed light bulb on a dark background

“HR is a necessary evil! HR is a back office function that neither generates revenue nor adds value! HR always says “no” and is an obstacle to operating the business! HR is expendable! HR is reactive! HR is all about fluff and intangibles! I don’t trust HR! HR doesn’t have strong business acumen or understand technology!”

In his piece entitled Human Resources:  Strategic, Predictive and Cost Effective, Parkland Health and Hospital System Chief Workforce Officer Sebastien Girard says HR is consistently targeted and, sometimes, labled as unneeded.

This piece will try to answer is simple:  is that true? 

We start by asking two additional questions:  who could hope to replace HR and is it feasible?

HR needed?

It doesn’t take much to remember a time when HR wronged us or caused mental pain:  a mistake in payroll, a seemingly useless procedure, another boring survey, or an attempt to build culture through an embarrassing internal office competition.

For the sake of argument, and as a construct designed to answer the question of who could hope to replace HR, let’s consider a scenario where the company you work for scrapped its HR department.  While that may bring a small smile to your face, the reality is someone will still need to carry on the functions the department was responsible for.

Who would those individuals be?

The first logical candidate would be line managers.  These individuals are essentially in the trenches with the non-managerial employees.  However, when it comes to developing policy around items such as health and safety and diversity, among other things, most line mangers are not up to the task.

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To add insult to injury, a poll conducted by the Center for Workplace Leadership found 75% of employees felt they needed better leaders.  That indicates line managers may not be the best to move in the HR role.

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If not line managers, what about senior managers?  Ideally, HR professionals are to be the strategic partner.  Senior managers could fill this role.

However, senior managers aren’t always a true reflection of the workforce.  To put it another way, these leaders aren’t always as diverse.

What about the employee themselves?

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Employees can conduct peer reviews, consult with each other about promotions and pay raises, and even resolve grievances, right?  In some instances, we’re sure employees can actually accomplish these goals.  That said, employees simply don’t have enough time to manage HR responsibilities plus their day to day job duties.

So far, we’re three candidates down and none really fit the bill.  What about outsourcing HR.  This can be done, but it is often expensive and the decisions from an outsourced HR don’t always represent the workforce.

Finally, what about hiring competent specialists?  In other words… hire an HR department.

This answers are final question about the feasibility of scrapping an HR department.

The problem with HR is it belongs to all employees.  Even without an HR department, companies still have to deal with HR-related matters.

The future of business and technology is continually changing.  That means the future of work is as well.  Companies need to make sure they are building and supporting strong HR departments and HR systems.  These individuals are highly skilled and can deal with the complexities that are HR.

HR must be supported and defined like finance, marketing, or operations departments.  HR is just as integral to the organization as the other functions mentioned.  The role of HR is just as dynamic as are the business environment and workplace.

Companies need to think about HR as they think about everything else. It’s never seriously been suggested to get rid of finance, operations or marketing.  Considering the expulsion of HR is just as absurd.

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Mason Stevenson
HR Exchange Network