The field of Human Resource Management is constantly changing due to globalization. The roles that human resource (HR) departments traditionally played have had to evolve in order to coexist with other departments in order to maintain its own identity. The interview with Ms. Amy Abdo of the Office of Human Resources within the Michigan Department of Education resulted in identification of several challenges that were grouped into three main themes: the HR department’s role in management training; improving the quality of the culture of the organization; and increasing employee satisfaction and productivity. If the challenges that HR departments face is not altered, the existence of those departments has a great likelihood of becoming extinct. Having an open and creative mind will assist the HR departments of an organization to be successful and flourish and proving to the company why not only HR departments but also HR personnel are needed.
The Changing Roles of Human Resource Management
The field of Human Resource Management is constantly changing due to globalization. The roles that human resource (HR) departments traditionally played have had to evolve in order to coexist with other departments in order to maintain its own identity. I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Abdo who acts as the Labor Relations Specialist within the Office of Human Resources at the Michigan Department of Education. During our interview, I asked several questions pertaining to her role at the state level and the challenges she faces. She discussed different topics ranging from her educational and professional backgrounds, the continuing professional development that which she engages in, and the role she thinks HR plays in the current workforce and into the future. Several themes emerged from the interview.
Specifically, there were three that stood out and warrant further discussion and they are: the HR department’s role in management training; improving the quality of the culture of the organization; and increasing employee satisfaction and productivity. The first challenge is the HR department’s role in management training. Besides HR staff doing their typical daily HR duties, the staff also needs to be involved in the training of managers on various topics. The more the managers know about basic forms and routine HR processes the more the HR professionals do not need to focus daily on these and can devote their time to the training and development of all staff in an organization. However, with the periodic hiring of new managers, the HR department would continue to educate management on which forms to use and the processes to follow. Ms. Abdo stated that training managers properly is one of the biggest things in the industry and includes them having knowledge of the human resource and labor laws.
This is clearly supported by Freeman (1997): Human resources (HR) management professionals need appropriate training so that they can effectively assume their role as management’s business partners. Training and development programs for the ‘new’ HR must focus on how the HR department can help achieve the company’s business objectives. Traditional training will not do because it does not take into account the skills, characteristics, and motives that HR practitioners need to create a strong business partnership with line managers. Ms. Abdo stated, along with training, creativity is needed in HR management for a more strategic business approach. Many professionals need to look beyond their education and past experiential knowledge to think outside the box and utilize a creative aspect. “In a world enriched by abundance but disrupted by the automation and outsourcing of white-collar work, everyone, regardless of profession, must cultivate an artistic sensibility (Pink, 2006).”
There is too much structure in the business world and having this creative or artistic ability will make someone more appealing in the workforce. In other words, employees who have a good balance of left (i.e., structured, process oriented) and right brain (i.e., creative, emotional) thinking ability and skills will give them a competitive edge in the ever evolving current and future work force. Training of organizational management, however, is only as effective as the training of the individuals in the HR departments. Ms.Abdo suggested support for this when she indicated that she herself engages in several types of continuing professional development, including webinars, State of Michigan Department of Civil Service classes, and participation in professional membership trade organizations or associations. Ms. Abdo is an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
In addition, she is also working towards her master’s degree in Labor Relations. She feels a combination of various training opportunities provides for the most well-rounded and trained employee. Moreover, when an individual is highly trained and determined to go even further in developing their knowledge of the field, they will become even more valuable within their company. This is especially true in an era of organizational down-sizing when human resource professionals need to constantly prove why they are needed within their organization. “Today, it is the knowledge possessed by employees that represents a key source of sustainable competitive advantage for organizations. Retaining and building that knowledge is one of the, major contributions that we can make as human resource professionals (Elsdon & Seema, 1999).”
Finally, with many companies expanding into the global business market, HR professionals are evolving and fulfilling multiple roles within their organization. Many companies are downsizing management and relying more on HR departments to step in and fill the void, when needed. This is contrary to intuitive thinking because this is assuming that because HR professionals are fully trained in HR processes that management need to know, they also have the ability to do the other content-specific portions of managers’ duties. Just because a person has knowledge of HR forms, processes, field-specific rules and regulations does not mean he/she has the knowledge or ability to step into a manager role. “They all need deep personal expertise in their craft or profession, as well as other content-related skills (Ricker-France, Leahy & Parsons, 2009).” HR departments are also working alongside other divisions, such as finance and technology.
In addition, many specialized positions within the HR department are also taking on multiple roles. Ms. Abdo stated this when she said her primary position was the Labor Relations Representative but also she does HR generalist duties. In her primary role, she focuses on monitoring of union contracts (provisions and grievances), ongoing and periodic negotiations with unions, and reading of past arbitrations and contracts. She also added that in her other duties on behalf of the HR department of the Michigan Department of Education, she engages in activities related to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), American Disabilities Act (ADA), disciplinary/dismissal actions and employer relations. This is supported by Freeman (1997) in which she states: A few dedicated HR professionals now function as thought leaders and program consultants for the organization.
To achieve this transformation, HR professionals had to be trained to fill the following roles: ▪ Offer guidance regarding the business implications of various ways of handling HR issues. HR helps managers identify their business goals and manage their units accordingly. ▪ Assist managers in defining staff roles and performance requirements. HR creates training programs to help managers become effective coaches. ▪ Provide mechanical links between organizational strategy and each employee’s work. To move to higher levels on the ladder, HR professionals were trained to help managers develop performance, measurements for the organization, for processes, and for individuals based on strategy. Another challenge the HR department faces is improving the quality of the culture of the organization for all employees. Examples of positive improvements that an organization can make may include the following: employee appreciation events, department picnics and other social gatherings, team-building retreats, allowing alternative work schedules and periodic telecommuting, and allowing staff to decorate their work or office space.
Another example is that many organizations have developed their own baseball or other related athletic teams to play against other companies with the goal of stimulating morale and building teamwork skills in environments outside of the actual workplace. It is important that an organization’s leadership includes HR department’s staff in these activities to reinforce the connection between the organization’s employees, management and their HR department. Many businesses today have multiple locations and are downsizing HR departments to have a single person physically located at a central office although that person oversees all the multiple locations. This centralized structure does not make for a good quality work culture for employees who are located at the various locations outside the central office. If they have immediate concerns, there is not a person on site at their location to assist them. This creates a potential for employees to feel alienated and begin to dissolve an employee’s loyalty and pride in his/her organization. Businesses today are also looking at how they can lower labor costs and still be more productive.
The HR department plays a role in this goal and sees a need for it to constantly reinvent itself to create new ideas and events to make the workplace a more cohesive, comfortable and fun environment. But it not only the responsibility of the HR department, this needs to start with upper management and trickle down all the way to staff members at all levels within the organization. However, building a cohesive, comfortable and fun environment is not an easy task. It is often easier for employees to do what they are comfortable with and continue in their daily routines rather than make a concerted effort to create change in their environments. This scenario unfortunately can result in what Messmer (1995) terms a “No-Zone” layer within the organization. This means “a spirit of negativity that hangs like a ceiling over employees. The layer thickens over time, a process accelerated by the repeated echoing of the word “no” when employees propose a new idea.” It is the task of upper management and the HR department to keep an open mind and reinforce positive behaviors in the organization in order to change the culture in positive manner.
Open candid communication both vertically and horizontally between staff and their peers, staff and managers, and managers and their staff help the culture to eliminate the hierarchy of personnel and breakdown miscommunication and the gossip-train that can easily exist within the work place. Ms. Abdo also provided insight into this issue by conveying that HR departments should play an important role in the culture of today’s workforce by not only making sure the company is compliant with policies and procedures, including labor laws, but also in retaining quality employees, and avoiding making bad hiring decisions. Simply stated, “HR should become an agent of continuous transformation, shaping processes and a culture that together improve an organization’s capacity for change (Ulrich, 1998)”. Lastly, increasing employee satisfaction and productivity continues to be a challenge for the HR field.
Giving employees the tools they need to do their job, including adequate timeframes, clearly understood work plans and goals, delineated tasks, deadlines within reason, and delegated decision making all contribute to positive productivity and happier employees. As the old saying goes, a happy employee is a productive employee. When you have a satisfied employee, the likelihood of increased productivity is increased as well making the organization itself more successful. In today’s workforce, another support that impacts productivity is telecommuting. Telecommuting is the use of personal computers, networks, and other communications technology such as fax machines to do work in the home that is traditionally done in the workplace (Bohlander and Snell, 2010). The many advances in technology not only in the United State but also around the world have made this practice possible. Also, the impact of the economy resulting in displaced workers has influenced employers to use telecommuting as a perk in hiring and in retaining highly productive and loyal staff. For example, during a hiring process an organization may find the best candidate is not located within a reasonable driving distance.
If the organization feels that candidate is worth offering flexibility to gain the benefits of him/her working at the organization, it may offer telecommuting as well as other perks in its benefits package to entice the candidate to come and work for the organization. This is also becoming more commonplace for organizations because of globalization. Ms. Abdo agreed that by HR departments developing flexible policies, such as telecommuting, it assists the organization in directly impacting employee satisfaction and productivity. It is a “win-win” for the employer as well as the employee. “HR has never been more necessary. The competitive forces that manager’s face today and will continue to confront in the future demand organizational excellence. The efforts to achieve such excellence—through a focus on learning, quality, teamwork, and reengineering—are driven by the way organizations get things done and how they treat their people (Ulrich, 1998).”
The organization must remember that if a stellar employee is not happy, he/she will over time become unproductive and most likely will begin to cost the organization not only in output productivity but also in his/her impact on morale of peers. He/she will also end up leaving the company at some point, but not before damage is done to the culture, satisfaction and productivity. Finally, Ms. Abdo reinforced the importance of keeping stellar employees happy in their jobs because it will contribute to positive employee satisfaction as well as a positive culture within the organizational environment. She stressed that this also applies to the personnel within the HR department as well. “HR professionals who refuse to reinvent themselves by aligning their duties with their companies’ business objectives put their jobs on the line and their organizations at risk (Zeidner, 2009)”. The interview with Ms. Abdo resulted in identification of several challenges that were grouped into three main themes related to the roles of HR departments in today’s work place environment.
These were: the HR department’s role in management training; improving the quality of the culture of the organization; and increasing employee satisfaction and productivity. The points made on these topics all contribute to understanding how the field of human resource management is ever changing in an era of globalization. If the challenges that HR departments face is not altered, the existence of those departments has a great likelihood of becoming extinct. The workforce and global influence is constantly forcing changes on and within organizations. From the points made in this paper, if HR departments do not change along with the trends, they too would be downsized, outsourced and even eliminated. Having an open and creative mind will assist the HR departments of an organization to be successful and flourish and proving to the company why not only HR departments but also HR personnel are needed.
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