Workplace doctor: How can I get HR to take some action?

It is important for HR departments to transform in line with the strategic direction of the organisation

A traffic sign is seen outside 10 Hammersmith Grove, which houses the offices of Fox Networks Group, in London, Britain, April 11,  2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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My position as a team manager of some 25 employees at a retail firm means I consider the welfare of each individual as important. However, when problems or difficulties do arise, our Human Resource department is virtually unresponsive to employee questions and concerns. In companies I have worked for previously, the HR department was perceived as the policymaking, policing arm of management but that is clearly not the case here. I have raised the issue with my line manager but nothing has been done. How can I improve the situation?  AL, Abu Dhabi

It is commendable that you care about the welfare of your team and value each of them individually. Managing 25 employees can be demanding, time consuming and challenging when you consider the individual differences between people, a fair guarantee that problems and issues will arise and a desire to do your best for each one of them.

It is not clear from your question whether you are concerned about Human Resources being unresponsive to problems or difficulties arising from the perceived need for policing or policy implementation, or if you find that they are not responsive to employee questions or concerns. It does seem, however, that you expect them to take some form of action which is not forthcoming.

Before we look at how you may be able to address this, let’s try and get a better understanding of the role of Human Resources. It is the part in the organisation concerned with the people and organisation culture dimension. The role of Human Resources was born out of the need for personnel and administrative functions, serving as the systemisation and compliance arm of executive management.

Over the past 20 years, many organisations have evolved towards a model developed by Dave Ulrich, known as the HR business partnering model. Today HR business partners work closely with business leaders and line managers to build capabilities, manage and plan talent and develop methods to achieve shared organisational objectives. It is important for HR departments to transform in line with the strategic direction of the organisation whilst enhancing the employees’ experience within the work environment and ultimately strengthening business operations and profitability, and this is what the model aims at doing.


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It is the responsibility of the HR function to set procedures and processes that are clear and well defined to which all employees have easy access to, and to ensure equal and fair treatment for all employees across the board. As many organisations work on enabling their managers to address issues that arise within their teams, you may find that your HR department expects you, as the line manager, to regulate and manage the work life of your team members, while HR acts as a support structure to you. From their perspective, your expectation that they should be addressing these issues could be seen as a deferral of your responsibility as team manager. Moving forward, you may want to raise this with your line manager again as well as reach out to your HR department. Try to get a better understanding of HR’s expectations of your role as manager, as well as their role in addressing what you describe in the situation above. Try to find opportunities to build trust and mutual understanding with HR, as in a recent interview with Dave Ulrich, he indicated that relationships seem to be at the heart of organisational governance in the Middle East.

Doctor’s Prescription:

The need to be adaptive, flexible and transformative in the business world today cannot be underestimated. This is true not only for your HR department, but also for you as a manager. Be mindful that today’s HR functions set policies to enable the strategic and operational performance of the organisation, and to support managers in their effective implementation. It’s important therefore to focus on the relationship you are able to develop with your HR department through good dialogue and see how you are able to play a more active role in managing issues and concerns within your own team, whilst being clear on the support you can expect from your HR department. Where there are more serious regulatory concerns, people can also reach out to government institutions who can provide further support.