How does the HR department deal with complaints
Daily dilemma of a HR manager: between management and employees
HR should be on an equal footing with the management and on the same level as the employees. In one direction this means: argue with numbers and support the business goals. The other one says: Develop employees and take care of them. Meanwhile, there are a lot of administrative tasks such as managing absences and salaries, but also strategic tasks such as finding answers to the IT skills shortage. As a HR manager, I can only fulfill my role if I know the requirements. Only when I set boundaries can I focus on core issues. This article is intended to show where the challenges of the HR role lie and how HR managers survive well between the two worlds.
What do employees expect from HR?
Employees expect an open ear, especially for personal work topics. An example: "I don't feel that the boss is taking me seriously." The HR department can then ask if the employee wants something to happen or if they just want to talk. In the event that the HR managers approach the management, they should inform the employee beforehand.
The HR department is often the only place where employees are allowed to say what concerns them or what bothers them. Here we discuss what not everyone should know. This gives HR managers a kind of mastery knowledge that they should not exploit.
HR cares. That is the expectation, and HR managers take this responsibility seriously. An example: a head of department leaves, nobody expected it. Then the HR manager grabs the colleagues and talks to them about it. This can be at lunch together, in the office or after work.
What does the management expect from the HR department?
Management expects HR to keep things going. This includes hiring enough people, hiring the right people, creating an environment in which employees can feel comfortable and develop, and a lot more. HR managers should understand the business and its challenges and adapt HR goals to business goals. So far, so comprehensive.
As soon as a problem arises, the management wants to know about it. "I have the feeling that dissatisfaction is spreading in department x." Something like that doesn't get a lot of attention. HR managers are better able to substantiate it with figures - and justify it. For example: “In department x, employees have been calling in sick for a few days for a few weeks now. Often this happens after projects have been completed, which suggests that the employees are overworked. " This can be dealt with. In the best case scenario, a dialogue begins at this point.
Often the HR department is the outsourced empathy department. HR reflect what upper management does not reflect. Managing directors appreciate this, but expect HR not to raise their hands over every little thing or to look too closely at soft factors. Because in the end it is mainly facts and figures that are heard by the management.
Graphic: From the everyday life of HR managers (image file to click on)
HR should be a business partner, so the repeated demand. What exactly that means: HR managers should know the business goals and challenges and plan and develop personnel accordingly. If HR managers need resources to do this, then they should base it on numbers. For example: These hiring goals are derived from the business goals. With an average of x interviews per position, I would need y recruiters to achieve the goal. Currently there are fewer, which means I need z new colleagues.
What do the technical managers (team leads) expect?
Since managers do not always have the same understanding of empathy as their staff colleagues, the latter must first create awareness when a problem arises. Means: Describe objectively what the incident is and ask openly how the manager assesses it. There is no place for accusations or blame. Rather, it is about grasping the problem and finding a common solution. This can consist of seeking a conversation with selected colleagues.
An example: The manager decides to move the team meeting from Friday morning to Friday afternoon. That leads to excitement in the team, because some people want to go to the home office every Friday or go home earlier. However, the criticism does not reach the manager, but rather HR. So it is up to the HR manager to assess to what extent the manager should know this and, if necessary, react to it. When it comes to a recurring topic (“such decisions are always made top-down”), HR can advise the manager to talk to colleagues about it. HR is not a leadership coach. But HR has to set the framework and make offers. The upper managers then “only” have to want to.
What the management underestimates
The higher up in the hierarchy, the more it is about numbers. From their point of view, good work is reflected in good numbers. The management repeatedly underestimates the fact that empathy is also work. Although it cannot be measured, it is (business) relevant. If, for example, the HR department succeeds in preventing a good employee from quitting even though he intended to do so, then an annual salary is saved in opportunity costs. Because that's how much it costs on average to fill a vacancy.
What is also often overlooked: A lunch between HR and an employee, during which HR-related topics are discussed, is exhausting - and important. Only when employees are taken seriously and seriously do they feel good, enjoy coming to work and want to make a contribution.
The management underestimates how valuable the knowledge that lies in the HR department is. HR managers can recognize developments early because they receive information first hand early on or because they have a trained perception. You can see when the traffic lights are green, yellow or red and react accordingly. An example: Employees from different teams report back that there is frustration in the weekly team meetings. HR then initiates a survey that asks every Friday what is going well, what is going bad, and what employees want. Based on the feedback, specific measures to improve team spirit and performance can be initiated.
HR is a good seismograph. If you want to develop your organization further, you can't do it without HR. However, company leaders often bring in external consultants instead of inquiring about the prospects internally.
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Which side are you on?
The HR manager stands in the middle, between upper management and the employees, and represents both interests equally. This requires a sure instinct and impartiality. Depending on the situation, HR can sometimes take one side. Take vacation calculation as an example: there are bosses who don't approve of half a day. But there are also many colleagues who occasionally need an afternoon off, be it to fly to a partner who lives in another city, to help relatives with the shopping, etc. With the right arguments (work-life-balance is a promise made by the company; rarely occurs; etc.) HR will succeed in convincing the management of the need for such a special regulation. Colleagues benefit from this in the short term and management in the long term when they see that it works and that the employees stay with the company (motivated).
Trust is central: The HR department must act in such a way that it has the trust of employees and management and does not play it off against each other. HR shouldn't take sides, it should represent interests. Being open, understanding and looking for or offering solutions - these are the core tasks of HR managers.
Example: An employee complains about a management decision. Then HR could scold you to make friends. But that's exactly what HR managers shouldn't. You should always try to create understanding for the other side and to boil emotions down. This is the only way to find a solution in the end.
This also applies in the opposite case: a manager comes to the HR colleague and scolds an employee. Even then, HR should promote understanding and put things into context. Often the interlocutor just wants to let off steam. Then it's time to cushion emotions and suggest talking to the employee. The point is to avoid a short circuit reaction. A bit like a mediator or a kindergarten teacher: it is best to keep a neutral ground.
Another part of the HR role is always to represent bad messages from above. Provided the HR department can understand the decision, it is again a matter of removing emotions and addressing the topic on a factual level. HR should advise management to discuss such decisions with the workforce and to be available to answer questions.
The environment that employees need is not necessarily the environment that senior management wants. Employees want work-life balance, meaningful work, a good atmosphere, etc. Above all, upper management wants business to be booming. HR cannot resolve this conflict, but the HR department can mediate between the two worlds and translate respective interests. HR should make it clear to management how difficult and challenging this can be.
What freedom of action do you have?
Managers usually have two assignments: an implementation assignment and a strategic design assignment. The higher up in the hierarchy (upper management), the more it is about the strategic part. Depending on which level you are as HR manager, you are more likely to implement or design. In both cases, it is important that there is a structured dialogue with the executives and management that strengthens ongoing cooperation. The upper management should provide the framework for this. You can address and also enforce your interests within this.
Case study I: An employee asks HR to maintain secrecy
"The supervisor is not treating me fairly." What if such a criticism lands at HR? With the note that please do not carry this on. If the topic is relevant to the advancement of the team or the company, or if it violates principles such as respectful behavior, the HR department should respond. Without naming specific names, HR managers should seek a conversation with their superiors, get to the bottom of the problem and work towards a solution.
A HR manager is a bit like a doctor or a lawyer, he is practically confidential. If colleagues “only” want to vent and the problem has no consequences for third parties, then the problem can simply remain in the HR department. Conversely, this means for HR employees that the department is a protected place for them too, in which they can address sensitive or stressful topics without being leaked to the outside world. This is important because a lot ends up in HR that is emotionally moving.
Case study II: An employee is absent for a period
When an employee experiences stress in their private lives, the HR department is often the first or only one to find out about it. These can be incidents such as: someone separates, has to look after relatives, is seriously ill. On this move, the employee may wish to have time in which he does not have to work because he does not know how to handle it mentally or physically. Then the challenge for HR managers is to get management to show indulgence. Forbearance of the time. The executives see - rightly, because it is their job - the decline in performance, not the personal fate. HR can sensitize people to this and make it clear to the manager that such a special situation is only temporary and ok. Otherwise, the consequences may be more serious.
An example: An employee is overworked and wants a few weeks off day-to-day business. In other words, it cannot add anything to the added value for a while. Depending on the area of responsibility, that's tough. But if the employee were absent for months because you didn't react to the first signals, that would be more damaging to business. In a way, it's about weighing personal and business interests that should be in harmony in the long term.
As a HR manager, where can you draw boundaries?
Boundaries are individual and everyone should define them for themselves. However, the following should apply to all HR managers: I can talk about anything in the HR office. What is said there stays there. If an employee has a concern or a problem, I don't have to solve it as a HR manager. I have to hold management accountable. I don't have to take care of every (private) concern of my colleagues. If an employee keeps coming back to share his or her general dissatisfaction, then I can make it clear and ask him to do something about it himself.
What makes the job
The nicest thing about the position is definitely the relationship with the employees. Even if it is exhausting, HR is needed and that motivates. What is difficult about the position, sometimes demotivating, is that HR managers often have to save the child when it is already in the well. Why don't you talk to us? The HR managers ask themselves. The personal is often underestimated. That is a shame and dangerous because it can be damaging to business. The more vehemently and fact-based HR makes its interests and its meaning clear, the faster a change in awareness will set in.
Graphic: mood in the HR department (image file to click)
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