Human resources (HR) professionals often find themselves wearing multiple hats in the workplace. They help manage employee relations, ensure compliance with labour laws, foster a positive work environment, and address various concerns that arise within the organisation’s workforce. However, HR professionals have, over the years, been also referred to ‘agony aunts’. An interesting nickname indeed!
The term ’agony aunt’ is borrowed from the advice columns found in newspapers and magazines. Traditionally, an ‘agony aunt’ is a trusted confidant who offers empathetic guidance and support to readers facing personal dilemmas or challenges. The analogy between HR professionals and agony aunts implies that the former plays a similar role within the workplace, providing an attentive ear and offering assistance to employees who approach them with their work-related issues.
Amit Sharma, CHRO, Volvo, says that traditionally, organisations had a personnel department where employees had their people-related issues addressed or sorted. Managers would often direct employees to the HR, considering it a dedicated function where individuals could share their problems.
“In this evolving role of HR, the emphasis is on building the right culture and ecosystem and fostering employee engagement. Progressive organisations have already made this shift, understanding that managers play a crucial role in supporting their team members.”
Amit Sharma, CHRO, Volvo
“This perception still persists in some organisations, even though the personnel department has now evolved into HR. Some managers believe that their responsibility is limited to issues related to business, and that people-related matters are the sole responsibility of the HR,” opines Sharma.
According to him, “In this evolving role of HR, the emphasis is on building the right culture and ecosystem and fostering employee engagement. Progressive organisations have already made this shift, understanding that managers play a crucial role in supporting their team members.”
Human resource professionals are entrusted with a range of responsibilities, which contribute to their reputation as workplace agony aunts. Let’s explore some key areas where HR professionals play a crucial role:
HR professionals act as mediators, helping to resolve conflicts that may arise amongst employees or between employees and management. They provide a listening ear, offer unbiased advice and facilitate constructive dialogue to find solutions.
HR professionals advocate for employee well-being and foster a positive work environment. They may handle sensitive matters such as workplace harassment, discrimination, or mental-health concerns, ensuring employees feel supported and safe.
“There has been a notable shift in the role of HR in recent years. Rather than being solely reactive, HR teams are becoming more proactive in their approach”
Sumal Abraham Varghese, director and CHRO, Transys Global
Policy and compliance
Human resource professionals ensure that the organisation adheres to labour laws and regulations, safeguarding employee rights. They keep abreast of changes in legislation and implement policies that promote fairness and equality.
Recruitment and onboarding
Not only are HR professionals involved in the hiring process, but they also help source suitable candidates, conduct interviews, and assess applicants’ qualifications. They play a pivotal role in ensuring that the organisation attracts and selects individuals who align with its values and objectives. Additionally, HR professionals oversee the onboarding process, ensuring that new employees feel welcomed, informed and equipped to thrive in their roles.
Training and development
It is the responsibility of HR professionals to facilitate employee training and development initiatives. They identify skill gaps, design training programmes and provide opportunities for employees to enhance their knowledge and abilities. By investing in employees’ growth, HR professionals contribute to their overall job satisfaction and help them achieve their full potential.
The HR departments are involved in establishing performance-evaluation systems and providing feedback to employees. They work closely with managers to set goals, monitor progress and recognise and reward achievements.
“There has been a notable shift in the role of HR in recent years. Rather than being solely reactive, HR teams are becoming more proactive in their approach. They are focusing on initiatives that promote employee engagement, health and wellness and other activities aimed at addressing broader organisational challenges,” says Sumal Abraham Varghese, director and CHRO, Transys Global.
Varghese observes, “While this transition is underway, it may not have reached its final destination where the HR teams become fully proactive business drivers in every organisation. However, the process is gaining momentum, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of change.”
“However, it is important to note that the term ‘agony aunt’ does not solely define the role of HR professionals. They are not mere receptacles for employee complaints and grievances”
Ramesh Shankar S, chief joy officer, Hrishti.com
While the term ’agony aunt’ may appear to be an over-exaggeration, it holds some truth. Human- resource professionals often find themselves dealing with a wide range of workplace challenges, including conflicts, grievances and personal struggles that can impact employees’ well-being and job satisfaction. They are expected to be approachable, empathetic and capable of handling sensitive situations.
Ramesh Shankar S, chief joy officer, Hrishti.com, points out that in an ideal scenario, organisations expect the HR to be the face of empathy and support, while immediate managers handle employee issues. However, reality often falls short of this ideal.
He says, “In many cases, employees harbour a dislike for their immediate managers, who may be unwilling to address or acknowledge their concerns. As a result, employees turn to the HR as a channel to express their grievances, seek useful feedback and find a solution. This perspective suggests that there is indeed some truth to the notion of HR professionals playing the role of ’agony aunts’.
“However, it is important to note that the term ‘agony aunt’ does not solely define the role of HR professionals. They are not mere receptacles for employee complaints and grievances,” asserts Shankar.
It is true that HR professionals collaborate with managers, executives and employees themselves to create a harmonious work environment. They also focus on strategic initiatives, such as talent acquisition, workforce planning and organisational development, which contribute to the overall success of the company. However, that doesn’t mean they are the ones solely responsible for resolving all workplace issues.
According to Sharma, the role of the HR has evolved from that of the traditional personnel department. While some organisations still rely on the HR to handle people-related issues, progressive organisations encourage their managers to take ownership of their team members’ engagement.