HR Takes a Turn in the Sun

August 31, 2000
More than ever, companies are dependent on human resources personnel to lead them towards growth and profitability.

The rise in discrimination-based lawsuits brought by employees, the stiff competition surrounding recruitment and retention, especially for workers with high-tech skills, and the complexities of the emerging global economy are just three of the 21st Century workplace developments that put the spotlight on human resources ingenuity.

It seems only logical then, that human resources personnel be awarded more of a role at the table when it comes to company-wide decision making involving both long and short-term strategies for success.

Human resources managers can play a key role in resolving claims of workplace discrimination.

Every company wants to avoid the costs of a legal settlement and the attendant negative press coverage. And yet as the workplace becomes more diverse, bias lawsuits filed by women and minorities against their employers continue to rise.

A company's top brass needs to give human resources senior managers the leeway, the tools, and the time of day.

According to the Equal Employment Occupation Commission, resolution of sex-based discrimination charges rose from 18,817 in 1991 to 32,836 in 1997.

Likewise, while barely 10,000 charges of racial harassment were filed in the 1980s, nearly 50,000 were filed in the 1990s. "So the increase and trend is there," reports Ida Castro, Chairwoman of the EEOC.

Human resources personnel are often aware of workplace tensions before they escalate, and they have the ideas and skills to keep those challenges from turning into crises.

Whether it's implementing diversity training, heading up a company-wide diversity committee, or bringing in outside consultants to conduct an audit, human resources management can take the lead if they are allowed an opportunity to do so.

And, when a crisis erupts, their problem-solving techniques are often underutilized; indeed they are often left out of the crucial meetings where decisions are made about how to react to the problem.

The fact is that if human resources personnel are not involved in a company's key planning from the outset, their effectiveness in helping a company avoid potential trouble and in benefiting from the full potential of its employee base, no matter how diverse, is limited.

Studies have shown that successful efforts in establishing a fair and friendly workplace environment often results in improved morale, greater productivity and increased retention.

Human resources managers can be the source of original and creative efforts to recruit and retain workers in an exceedingly tight labor market.

In today's economy, companies are struggling to find and keep good employees with the right skills. Recruitment is difficult and time consuming, and losing a current employee costs one and one half of that person's annual salary.

It's the human resources department that keeps up on changes in benefits packages and hiring practices that can attract the people a company often desperately needs. Being on the cutting edge in offering and tracking alternative work arrangements such as flex time, job sharing and telecommuting can make a difference.

Alternative benefits such as vacation-share, stock options, cafeteria-style health coverage and professional development courses are additional perks that HR can initiate in order to attract and keep workers happy and on the job.

Today's recruitment efforts often target people with high-tech skills. Those same skills can be put to use by human resources personnel to attract potential employees.

Creative Internet-savvy recruiters can make a company stand out among the thousands vying for attention in cyberspace. And those up-to-date on current information technology can evaluate a company's present and future needs and create a workforce to fill them.

Finally, human resources managers can help companies successfully compete in a global marketplace.

It's not just at corporate headquarters where HR personnel can make an impact. They can help to usher a company onto the global stage. Staffing offices throughout the world requires understanding cultural differences, as well as a company's regional and country-specific objectives and its plans for future growth.

Increasingly, human resources personnel have the skills to do the job; sometimes, however, they are not privy to the strategic and tactical insights that will allow them to exercise those skills to the greatest advantage, insights that can only be communicated to them by senior executives.

Often a company's human resources people are also responsible for developing the training and information systems that make an integrated whole of a company's disparate and far-flung workforce. Determining how employees and offices will communicate and relate to one another is key to keeping morale high, avoiding misunderstanding, and helping a workforce feel part of one worldwide family.

It's no small task, but top quality human resources managers can do it.

Most human resources departments today bear little resemblance to their predecessors of ten or twenty years ago. Their tasks are broader and more complex, their skills more sophisticated and creative. The challenge remains with a company's top brass to give human resources senior managers the leeway, the tools, and the time of day in order for them to make a critical difference.