When I chose human resources as a specialization an acquaintance who had considerable experience commented why I wanted to reduce myself to a data entry role or worse, become the most disliked member in any organization. I assumed it was his biased opinion and did not give it a second thought. But as the years went by, the more people I interacted with the more I realized how people perceived HR professionals. The view was consistent. So mere curiosity compelled me to do my own little survey.

And coupled with my own experiences and that of my colleagues, this is what I found.

“I am not clumsy. But I do manage to find obliging corners and polite protrusions to bump into at regular intervals. Maybe I am dimensionally challenged. Or perhaps a dreamer. Obsessive data organizer, granny crafter and paper hoarder. A strategist with an eye for the big picture. I love kitschy and brightly colored art and plain white ppts”.

Sabah Shah, HR Business Partner and Compensation Strategist.

1. Perception: HR is nothing but data entry work glorified

Why that seems right: HR departments are primarily responsible for maintaining employee records which can and is often easily outsourced. They are not required except to implement decisions taken by the ‘actual’ business units and departments.

Why it isn’t: HR is often used as a generic term for all work that has anything to do with an employee. And part of it is the operational elements which include maintaining data and record upkeep. Most organizations understand this distinction and have clearly structured and independent operational teams that keep it all flowing smoothly. However, the term is used across and leaves no room for distinction.

This in no way undermines the importance of what the operational teams accomplish. Personnel data is as varied as roles in an organization. Making sense of it all and keeping it updated to ensure timely action and flow, thanklessly staying in the background makes it perhaps the most fundamental element of the HR system. Imagine a random bonus going missing from your paycheck when you have already made plans to vacation with it. It is a stressful role to be in as these teams are also heavily audited. Any mistakes can cost them and the company big.

Why that’s changing: HRIS, HCMs are revolutionizing the way we approach these tasks. The process is being reimagined to become less invasive and time consuming and more accurate.

 2. Perception: HR teams eat into money earned through the hard work of the revenue generating departments and get a say in how this money should be budgeted

Why that seems right: HR is a support function that generates no revenue. It is one of the groups that has the biggest say in the compensation philosophy of the organization as well as spending budgets on personnel.

Why that isn’t: As a partner who can see the whole picture from the distance, HR perhaps has the best visibility into what works and what doesn’t. Along with leadership, it can help identify the right areas to invest and withdraw. Apart from basic requirements, the money moved around by HR teams is not for the group itself. It is eventually aimed at a business outcome.

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Recruitment professionals reduce overall hiring costs or can improve the quality of people hired impacting business. Training programs have (and must) ROI and targets to accomplish. Compensation teams work towards ensuring highest parity, reducing attrition, retaining top talent and so on. The money is really not held into the department but is typically pumped back. It only appears to be routed to them.

Why that’s changing: HR teams often worked in isolation or spent time convincing business leaders of their ideas. Or the ideas were generated in other places and the HR teams had no time to respond to them as they remained focused on the operational elements. With the concept of working as partners gaining ground, it is easier to see what HR is trying to accomplish for the organization.

 3. Perception: HR teams are lazy and nonresponsive

Why that seems right: This was by far the most commonly repeated and chosen reason. Across. And the reasons were simple, turn around time for simple queries is very high. This is something I observed in my own experience as well. And while I can understand why my colleagues would delay responding to simple queries, it does not excuse us from representing our community a certain way.

Why that isn’t: To an employee it is one query, but it might be routed in a series of iterations and steps that the HR member undertakes. It also often is a repetition of many other similar queries that all require the same iterations. It may sometimes require responses from other team members or departments. HR will be the only front that the employee needs to go through but the not the query itself.

A simple thing to help HR team members is to respond. Sometimes just reverting with “I shall get back to you on this by x time” is very helpful. Most employees will be patient. However, the lack of a response till you have a response is what irritates most parties. Also, this is not a KRA for most HR partners. And hence low on their priority list. But this should be on top. Just like it is for any sales team. After all they handle your most important customer – your people.

Why that’s changing: Intranet, HR portals etc are helping employees address their own queries. Induction programs are being designed to include as much relevant information so as to minimize these.

4. Perception: Use fancy terms to make themselves seem important

Why that seems right: We do throw around a lot of psychology and come up with new concepts all the time. Coaching, employee engagement, talent management. Old wine in new bottles for fatter paychecks.

Why it isn’t: Just like we discover new technologies and upgrade our product offerings, so does this group. Call it what you may but what worked ten years ago maybe irrelevant now. People and cultures and environments have changed dramatically. And HR is just keeping pace with all of that. And improving to make sure we leverage what we know about people to bring out the best in them.

But it is futile to invest in concepts simply because they are in vogue. Every proposition, even if it involves behavior based outcomes, must be backed by research relevant to that group or function or industry. Without that even the most fancy idea has no meaning and is just jargon.

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Why that’s changing: Executives and Management don’t buy concepts for what they sound like anymore to prove their worth. They expect ROI based proposals and undertake projects based on a specific outcome that is planned. Monetising these concepts has improved their credibility and made them more responsible.

5. Perception: The minions who layoff employees

Surprise!! This was actually not a major reason as expected. Most employees understand that while the activity is carried out by HR professionals, it is not merely their decision and do not hold HR responsible. But how the activity was undertaken by an organization was seen as very representative of what it stands for.

Infact most HR professionals had impressions of their employers based on how they were expected to perform this activity in case there was a need for it.

However, I do believe HR plays a critical role in this decision. While a business can see where it needs to cut down, HR can see the whole picture and that is its advantage. Being able to see what skill sets are going to be replaced and where else can they be moved, how these can be trained to fit into other available roles before blindly carrying out this activity is where its input should really lie. It can actually be about saving jobs.

Overall, there were many other misconceptions about what HR really does. Surveys, events often backfire with a certain group feeling offended, left out or finding that it changed nothing. There were several biases too, more so for women than men in HR. But overall, the gap is bridging and awareness and belief in what we do can help employees share our confidence. We need to put it out there through results and everything else will fall in place.

What do you think? Are you an HR professional who agrees or has faced the contempt or an employee who is still waiting for that email? Or do you feel that it’s a well oiled machine and we are all a loving happy family :)