By Richard Lawrence-Allen
The mysterious tribe of the Human Resources department is an oftentimes misunderstood and woefully underappreciated team within any business. This is perhaps because the HR department, unlike frontline or client/customer-focused departments, does not generate any direct income for the business. However, to ignore the true value of an efficient and hard-working Human Resources team would be to seriously undervalue an essential component to any well-run business.
If the sales team is the lifeblood of a business, the marketing team the brain, and the customer services team the immune system, the HR department would be the beating heart. The HR department ensures the day-to-day running of a business, ensuring that all departments are able to continue working at peak performance. General staff members will often be unaware of the workings of an HR department as their work happens smoothly behind the scenes as it were, however their absence would be felt immediately. In order to fully appreciated all that an HR department does for a company, you first need to understand exactly what it is that they do.
An HR department is responsible for a number of facets essential to keep a business running, and not only do HR teams need to make sure that these things are taken care of at all times, but they also need to be forward-thinking and forward-planning at all times, remaining flexible in their working practices and identifying and putting out metaphorical fires before they even have a chance to set aflame.
One of the key responsibilities of an HR department is to ensure the business remains compliant to all labour laws. This means ensuring all minimum requirements for breaktimes are kept, making sure that equality and accessibility requirements are met to the highest standards and of course maintaining required health and safety checks, equipment and procedures. An HR department must also keep up to date with changing legislation, implementing any necessary changes before new legislation comes into effect, including, but not limited to, changing rates of National Living Wage, etc.
These duties are vital as it fosters a healthy and happy work environment for all staff, which in turn leads to better productivity across the entire company, as well as protects the business from legal retributions for failing to meet minimum expected standards of any employer. In this sense, an HR department really pays for itself in money saved!
An HR department is also in charge of the payroll system, any taxable or non-taxable benefits that are offered to staff and setting up the autoenrollment system for a designated workplace pension scheme (to which employees can choose to stick with or opt-out of as per their own wishes). Payroll dispensation responsibilities can be handled by teams specifically designated to this task and this task alone in very large companies. However, for most small- and medium-sized businesses, it is the HR department that will handle this responsibility. Ensuring that staff are paid correctly and on time for every pay period is a fundamental role and any business that fails to meet these basic needs will soon find themselves with a very angry workforce, or without a workforce entirely!
Along with the financial requirements that most HR departments will have to handle with payroll, it is the job of an HR department to maintain all tax compliance for the business as well as thorough and up to date records of all staff, individual tax forms, insurance records and certificates and other pertinent information required in the event of any type of audit. An HR department will typically also be responsible for sorting and distributing payslips, P45 and P60 forms to staff as well.
These fiscal, financial and legal obligations of an HR team are the barebones of the requirements for any Human Resources department, protecting the business and workforce from legal action. Without a team dedicated to make sure that all of these commitments are met to exacting standards leaves a company vulnerable and so this vital work from HR keeps a business going. However, in addition to these matters, the deeper value of a Human Resources team comes from the more nuanced, interpersonal duties that they take on.
HR departments handle the pastoral care for a company, offering emotional, social and spiritual support to staff members. In practical terms for a business environment this requires maintaining positive employer-employee and inter-employee relations. If there is a dispute between staff members, or between staff members and management, the HR department will handle any escalations or appeals to disciplinary actions taken to resolve any conflict. This can take many forms, including an unbiased investigation of the facts of any given situation, mediating an open discussion between the parties involved, and/or individual meetings. The HR department will have to use their own skilled judgement at dealing with a vast array of different people to decide on which is the best course of action to take.
Not everyone will always get on with every colleague they work with, and it is not a requirement of any job to be friends with all of your colleagues. However, despite how you may feel personally about an individual that you work with, you must always be able to find a constructing working relationship with your contemporaries. In difficult situations of conflict, it is an HR department’s unenviable task to facilitate solutions.
An HR department can also help with internal career development. By holding periodic employee reviews with staff, HR can offer critical and constructive work assessments in order to offer staff a plan of improvement and progression. Meeting such as these can establish both long-term and short-term goals, highlighting areas for improvement and even offering an insight to forging a path towards promotion.
The HR department is an invaluable team within any company, providing a range of vital services. Next time you walk past the mysterious office door to the HR team, remember all the hard work that they do and that they are always there to help whenever you need them.