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Human Resources Relationships

From hiring to exit interviews, the human resources (HR) department is instrumental in keeping a company running smoothly. Whether it’s helping to alleviate administrative demands, conducting performance reviews, or organizing office events, HR wears many hats, which may confuse some. Is HR employee-friendly, or is its allegiance more complex than the average worker realizes? 

We surveyed nearly 1,000 employees about their experiences with their company’s HR department. Our findings reveal how working professionals view HR, which issues people are comfortable bringing to the department, and how HR personnel could be more approachable. Read on as we explore. 

Friend, Foe, or It’s Complicated?

There’s a misunderstanding that HR works solely on behalf of employees. While a function of HR is to keep employee morale and productivity high, human resources representatives are not career coaches: They work for the company, and that’s where their loyalty ultimately lies. 

Roughly a third of the participants in our study thought HR should be most loyal to the company. Self-advocacy in the workplace can be intimidating, which might be why 67.5% believed HR should be most faithful to employees. Although HR staff are not your peers – the department is more closely aligned with management – they can advocate on behalf of employees, as doing so pertains to company culture and development. Perhaps that’s why more than 67% of those surveyed believed their company’s HR department has employees’ best interests in mind.

Common Issues Discussed

As employees form relationships with HR staff members, boundaries may seem unclear, but there are things you should never tell an HR representative. While experts recommend keeping your second job and breakup stories out of professional conversations, it’s appropriate to discuss issues that could potentially affect your productivity, such as harassment, problems with your boss, and salary. 

More than 4 in 5 survey respondents were comfortable discussing company benefits with HR, followed by career guidance (65.7%). However, 46.4% of respondents felt uncomfortable bringing a problem with their boss to HR, which is concerning considering that dealing with a toxic boss may threaten employee well-being

While more than half of survey respondents said they’re comfortable discussing harassment with HR, a conversation may only be the starting point for dealing with workplace harassment. According to one study, 75% of people who reported harassment experienced retaliation. Furthermore, sexual harassment training is often insufficient.

Views on Human Resources

The remote job market is growing: Companies in many sectors now offer employees opportunities to work from home. But while working from home has its perks, there’s no in-house HR representative to deal with issues that may arise. Roughly a third of the people in our study worked at a different location than their HR department. Employees who didn’t work in the same location as their company’s HR department were more than twice as likely to say they didn’t trust HR. 

Meanwhile, more than 2 in 5 employees working in the same location as their HR department said they moderately trust human resources, compared to 39.1% working in a different location. More than 71% of survey respondents working in the same office as their HR department also shared more positive sentiments toward HR, compared to just 54.3% of people who worked in a different place.

As companies grow into multiple offices or become international, it may be worth advocating for regional HR representatives – people who employees can get to know personally from any satellite office.  

HR Approachability

HR staff members may be the first to hear about serious company problems, so they need to be personable – the kind of friendly face an intimidated employee feels comfortable engaging with. But employees not working in the same location as HR tended to view the department as less approachable. 

Thirty-six percent of respondents who worked in the same location as HR found the department moderately approachable, compared to 30.1% of employees who didn’t work in the same location as HR. Employees without face-to-face access to HR were also seven times more likely to say the department was not at all approachable. 

Does your company have an HR approachability problem? Employees in our study recommended that HR representatives make themselves more available – that’s an easy way to solve an inaccessibility issue. While it’s important to have boundaries, why not take that entry-level person out to lunch or for a midafternoon walk? For workers in a different location than HR, regularly reaching out could signal that the department is available to field questions and concerns. 

Following availability, 41.5% of employees recommended proactive communication, and roughly 38% suggested more transparency. Consistency in handling situations also made the list (33.7%). If one person gets written up for using social media on the clock, and another gets fired, employees may question the HR department’s fairness.  

Is HR on Your Side? 

The truth is out: HR is not your friend or foe, but it’s not all that complicated, either. An HR representative’s job is to help employees feel comfortable and be productive in the workplace. Our findings show that the majority of people believed HR has employees’ interests in mind. However, about half of the workforce was uncomfortable discussing important work-related issues (problems with their boss, for example). This might be because some don’t feel HR is approachable. 

Strengthening employee relations with the HR department is just one part of running a successful business. Achieving favorable business outcomes begins at formation. Our ZenBusiness specialists will help you start your business and will ensure that you meet state compliance standards and deadlines. Visit ZenBusiness, and get started for free. 

Methodology 

We surveyed 994 current employees about their experiences with and perceptions of the human resources department at their company. Respondents had to report that their company had an HR department to qualify for the survey. 

Respondents were 48.7% women and 51.3% men. The average age of respondents was 36.7 with a standard deviation of 10.5.

Respondents were given a list of various issues HR commonly handles. They were asked to rate how comfortable they would be discussing each with HR. They were given the following scale of options:

  • Extremely uncomfortable
  • Uncomfortable
  • Slightly uncomfortable
  • Neither uncomfortable nor comfortable
  • Slightly comfortable
  • Comfortable
  • Extremely comfortable


In our final visualization of the data, these options were condensed into three groups: uncomfortable, neither uncomfortable nor comfortable, and comfortable.

All respondents were asked how approachable the HR department at their company was. They were given the following scale of options:

  • Not at all approachable
  • Slightly approachable
  • Somewhat approachable
  • Moderately approachable
  • Extremely approachable

All respondents who selected an option other than “extremely approachable” were asked about what HR could do to appear more approachable to employees. Respondents could check all options that applied. 

Limitations 

The data presented here are based on self-reporting. Common issues related to self-reported data include exaggeration and selective memory. For example, when reporting how trustworthy or approachable HR is, people could have answered based on one particular experience that was prominent in their memory, rather than the entire breadth of their experiences. 

Fair Use Statement 

The HR department serves an important purpose in many companies, but it can be hard to know when and how to bring an issue to their attention. If someone you know would benefit from the information in this project, feel free to share for any noncommercial reuse. Our only request is that you link back here so that people can view the entire project and review the methodology. This also gives credit to our contributors for their efforts.

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