According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, HR managers are meant to “oversee the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff; consult with top executives on strategic planning; and serve as a link between an organization’s management and its employees.”
Unfortunately, the day-to-day reality of working in HR often means duties like handling onboarding paperwork and managing changes to payroll end up overshadowing that underrated aspect of working in HR: serving as a link.
HR pros are in a unique position to connect with other employees in the organization and ensure communication is open between them and upper management. HR can also be responsible for resolving or mediating issues and disputes and ensuring everyone is comfortable in the work environment. However, employees might not realize HR holds this role if they only associate your department with piles of paperwork.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to present yourself as a partner, not just a paper pusher:
Adopt a Partner Mindset
The first thing any HR employee can do is adopt a partner mindset. While other employees sometimes see those working in HR as untouchable, it can be easy for HR employees to feel out of touch as well. As an HR employee, you know the boundaries and expectations set forth by your organization better than anyone. This makes you the perfect person to initiate professional interactions and let other employees know they can come to you with concerns in the workplace. You are there to help, after all. You just have to make sure you acknowledge that fact first.
Always Remain Neutral
As an HR employee, you typically work within your own department, which means you probably do not pose any professional or monetary threat to other employees in your organization. There is no commission competition between you and the sales staff. You likely are not up against other employees for promotions or raises.
Because of this unique position and the lack of barriers between you and other employees, you can be a neutral actor. Other employees can discuss workplace topics with you without worrying about alienating you or themselves. You can help cultivate these interactions and encourage others to see you as a partner by emphasizing your neutrality.
Anyone who has worked in HR knows that the best time to establish a meaningful connection with another employee is before the connection is even needed. Others in the office need to know they can come to you with an issue before it gets out of hand. Establishing yourself as a contact early — and emphasizing that fact often — means others won’t hesitate to approach you if they need you.
Of course, you don’t always have to wait for employees to come to you; you can go to them. Regular check-ins of any form — e.g., casual chats or formal surveys — can help you keep your finger on the pulse of the office. This, in turn, allows you to do the linking part of your job more efficiently. Once an employee has moved past the initial onboarding stage, use a project management tool to schedule regular check-ins over the coming weeks and months. That way, you’re more likely to stick to them — and every new employee will understand your role from the get-go.
In order for your coworkers to see you as a partner, they have to be able to trust you. HR employees have access to a lot of sensitive personnel information, and employees know that. Employees may offer up more sensitive information to you during conversations regarding workplace issues, so it is imperative that you maintain professionalism and earn your colleagues’ trust.
Know the limits of what you can disclose, to who, and when. If you mishandle information, abuse your power, or otherwise break someone’s trust, you will likely never regain it.
Acknowledge Employees as People
We all know it from personal experience: When you fill out form after form after form, you start to feel like that’s all you are to your employer. Paperwork is inevitable in any workplace, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you do as an HR pro. If your coworkers only associate you with direct deposit forms and employee handbooks, they are unlikely to ever view you as a true partner.
This is one reason it is so important to treat everyone in the organization as more than a social security number. Given all the information you have about other employees, it should be incredibly easy for you to relate to them on a personal level. Of course, you never want to misuse the information you have, but small acknowledgements of birthdays and “work-iversaries” can go a long way in making you seem like an approachable team member.
When HR pros build genuine, trusting relationships with workers, they can really make a difference in the day-to-day lives of more employees and help build a meaningful workplace community.