Creating a Good Reputation for HR

Building a Supportive HR Department: Moving Beyond the Enforcer Image

A couple weeks ago I was at one of my company’s stores setting up for new employee orientation when an employee approached me. I said hello, and he responded, “Boy, am I glad it’s you and not Lucy.” Lucy is one of my coworkers in HR. She’s good at her job and pays regular visits to the stores for a variety of reasons. I asked the employee what he meant. He said, “Every time Lucy shows up, someone gets fired.”

I’ve gotten used to HR being branded with this kind of reputation. In fact, at my last HR job I had a coworker who prided herself on being known as the Wicked Witch. But this is not the way to create an HR department that is inviting and supportive. My HR coworkers and I have many reasons for visiting our company’s six stores—reasons that often have nothing to do with terminations. We regularly travel to the stores to handle all kinds of HR matters. This includes positive things like training and interviewing, but it also includes the things that can give an HR department a reputation for being the company police. Let’s look at three ways you can help your HR department move beyond being known only as the enforcer.

Get to Know Employees

At my company we train employees to regularly interact with customers. This includes smiling, greeting customers with a friendly hello and asking them if require any assistance. I’ve used this same standard when I visit stores. Even if I am there for a termination, I still allow plenty of time during my visit to check in with people. I don’t want my visit to just be about the termination. With all the things I need to complete in a workday plus all the HR surprises that pop up, it is tempting to just do the termination and leave. But such an approach is what leads employees to think that terminations are the main thing we do. If bad news is the only reason you have to show up at a worksite, then it’s only natural for employees to assume you are always the bearer of bad news.

When you stop to check in with employees, it doesn’t always have to be about the workplace. One of the owners at my company regularly comes to new employee orientation to introduce himself. He always starts by going around the table and asking employees to say something interesting about themselves that has nothing to do with work. When he’s not able to attend, I have employees introduce themselves this way too. I noticed a while back that the owner takes notes on what people say, so he can follow up with them later on. Whether you’re in HR or you’re the company owner, this can be a good jumping off point for a conversation with employees later on.

When you do speak to employees about the workplace, make sure to throw in some positive feedback. As I often remind managers, positive feedback is even more valuable than pointing out what policies someone isn’t following. For me that means making sure I compliment the deli worker who did a great job on making my sandwich or letting the gourmet department employee know that the cheese they recommended was amazing.

Be Accessible

At my last company I worked on-site in a distribution warehouse, so I had regular face-to-face interaction with employees. They could come to my office with questions, and I regularly walked the warehouse floor. At my current company I work at the main office and provide a lot of HR support by phone and email when I’m not visiting our stores. This creates challenges with accessibility because employees don’t always know to whom they can turn with their HR questions.

As I mentioned before, planning time at the stores is an essential part of my job. It’s easy to visit the stores close to the company’s main office, but we have several locations that are at least an hour’s drive away. Usually I do new employee orientations once a month at each of these locations. When I’m going to be at a store for orientation, I block out the other half of the workday on my calendar and plan to be available at the store. I walk the store to check in with employees. Often I’ll also set up a temporary workstation for myself in the store’s café, employee break area or other common area. This way I’m visible and employees can easily come ask me their HR questions.

Focus on Benefits & Incentives

HR is usually responsible for managing benefit and incentive programs. We need to constantly be on the lookout for ways to improve our benefits packages to meet the changing needs of our employees. This can include everything from insurance and wellness programs to employee discounts and incentives.

When you are visiting with employees, ask about benefits. Find out what they want. Benefits and incentives don’t always have to be expensive. At my company, we offer tokens for a job well done. These can be handed out by managers and HR and can be cashed in for T-shirts, movie tickets, gift certificates and other fun items. We regularly talk to employees to find out what kinds of items they want to cash in their tokens for.

Make benefits a big focus of your department. Not only will a robust benefits package make your company more appealing to applicants, but it will also help retain your longtime employees.

In the End…

Those of us in HR know that we don’t just do the dirty work. For employees, we are often a cheerleader, a shoulder to cry on and an ally in navigating all manner of workplace issue. It’s important that we make our role as support visible through the good things we do.

What do you do at your company to create a positive reputation for your HR department?

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.

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