Be it negotiating salaries during hiring, to bring down employee cost for the organisation, or disclosing the management’s decision to let go of people, HR always ends up having to do the dirty job. On the one hand there is the management that requires HR to execute a certain task beneficial to the organisation, and on the other, there are those people whose careers are at stake—a catch 22 situation for HR. It is left to HR to decide whether they should balance out the situation or get their hands dirty, by blindly following the management’s orders.
Ravi Kyran, President-HR, Bajaj Auto
The question is not whether HR is expected to do a dirty job or not, but how HR manages people’s expectations. There will always be various kinds of expectations from HR, which at times may become demands.
In the absence of strong values, if there are demands and requests, which HR may be expected to fulfil, it becomes a demand-fulfilment exercise instead of a value-creation one. Even if you look at the examples from the recent past, it is evident that HR is just helping with restructuring, but is it doing so in the right way? This is debatable.
While HR certainly plays a crucial role in supporting organisations in restructuring or recruiting, it is important to analyse how it does it. HR can help organisations do these things in a way that it is in sync with the organisation’s value system and is also in the long-term interest of the company.
Any business ecosystem will always pose demands, but it is for HR to decide how they would want to execute those demands. It is unhealthy of HR to not hold a position of value or look at the long-term issues, thereby simply becoming an execution arm. The issue is not that HR is asked to do a dirty job. The issue is whether HR understands its true value and upholds it in a way that will end up impacting the organisation, helping it sustain in the long run.
We in HR need to hold a strong position, based on values and conviction. If we allow conviction to be replaced by fear, we will just begin acting instead of impacting. We need to acquire a thoughtful approach and move from action to impact.
Ganesh Chandan, chief human resources officer, Greaves Cotton
The job of having difficult conversations with your own people becomes ‘dirty’ or rather uncomfortable for three reasons:
1. Lack of preparedness – Quite often, many rush into having difficult conversations without preparing well or doing the required ground work. When they are confronted with some fundamental questions, they lack honest and convincing responses. If enough indications and feedback are provided in the early stages, employees will be better prepared to deal with it.
2. Assumption that one size fits all – HR and businesses need to realise that all employees are different, and have to deal with their own unique circumstances. Therefore, one size will not fit all. They need to craft a customised solution for each employee addressing their key concerns. They also need to be flexible and considerate.
3. Absence of concern for future– Rather than merely communicating the decision, businesses and HR must co-create a plan to lend a helping hand to the employee. It could even be in the form of finding jobs in other organisations or re-skilling them or part-time engagements. The options are plenty, but the willingness to travel that extra mile is essential. A mechanical approach with the sole focus on cost reduction often results in many problems and unpleasantness.
Sunitha Lal, former chief human resources officer, Matrimony.com
The fact that we have reached a point where we are discussing whether HR is made to do the dirty job has a deep-rooted explanation. It is the HR function that let the game slip away from its hands gradually, by becoming more business-oriented. That is all fine, but in the process of becoming so, it slowly lost its human connect.
Be it a ramp up or a reduction in the workforce, it is a business decision and it needs to be co-owned by both business and HR. However, it unfortunately and gradually just slipped into the HR’s bucket with the management trying to escape the difficult conversations. It reached this stage because at some point business began disowning talent decisions.
Despite various discussions around talent development these days, the sad reality is that most businesses look at it as a commodity. The term (talent) itself takes away the human part from the people under consideration.
On the other hand, in case of unpleasant situations, such as layoffs, HR needs to support the employees in the best ways possible. HR has to stand for what is in the best interest of the employees. It is important for HR to define ‘how’ they can handle such difficult situations better. The ‘how’ can be defined well only if the ‘why’ behind the same is clear. This implies that if an organisation has the right intention behind a retrenchment plan or something similar, then the ‘how to plan ahead’ part will automatically fall into place.