A Disconnect Between HR and Employees

New research finds employees are dissatisfied with their HR departments, though experts say there are ways the function can change how it's perceived within an organization.

Thursday, October 16, 2014
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If perception is reality, as the saying goes, then HR has a real perception problem on its hands.

That's according to findings from several new ADP Research Institute studies that have uncovered a persistent gap in the relationship between HR departments and employees.

Indeed, according to the studies, two out of five employees in the United States indicated an intention to leave their companies within the next 12 months, with dissatisfaction with HR processes, policies and functions being "a major driver behind their intent to leave."

The ADP surveys also identified employees' perceptions of management functions -- particularly those dealing with workforce and talent management -- as much lower than HR's perceptions.

"HR's primary responsibility is to employees," says Julie Arzonico, senior director of market insights for Roseland, N.J.-based ADP, "and in the eyes of those employees, it doesn't appear that they're doing as good a job as they could be."

Meanwhile, HR departments everywhere are still being asked to "do more with less" by juggling a variety of responsibilities without increasing their own ranks, which makes them feel like they're doing it all.

And HR has a key role to play within an organization because it tends to be the first face an employee gets to see through recruitment and onboarding, says Scott Olsen, U.S. leader of New York-based PwC's human resource services practice."But at the same time," he says, "HR has a lot of responsibilities regarding compliance issues, for instance, and the employee might not have an appreciation for that."

That being said, HR departments need to do a better job of selling themselves, experts say.

"HR does all this good work, but then they don't tell anyone what they're doing," says Alisa Collins, co-owner and president of Pittsburgh-based Compass Business Solutions. "HR is horrible at branding their work. They're doing it in a vacuum, and it's not recognized."

One solution to that lack of recognition, she says, could be to work with a graphics designer to make HR projects visually pop, which can then inspire organizational excitement and interest.

And feedback from employees can translate into measurable improvements, if handled correctly, says Clinton, N.J.-based Nick Corcodilos, host of, adding that the top-trending articles on his website currently are based on the topics "how to resign" and "exit interviews."

"If you want to have better dealings with employees," he says, "try asking those exit-interview questions now -- while there's still a chance to improve the company. You might even save those employees who were getting ready to leave."

While there may be a variety of ways to get employee input, in order for it to be valid, says Olsen, HR needs to find a way to maintain employee's confidentiality throughout the gathering process.

He says focus groups can be structured to ensure confidentiality, while a survey approach can be constructed to provide baseline demographic data.

"You really need candid feedback," he says. "Good data equals realistic statistics."

As an example, he says, "you might come up with a statistic that, if you can keep people in your organization for nine months, it will improve productivity and the likelihood of them staying with the organization for a long time. Using more advanced data analysis, you can then create a program aimed at retention."

There's also a good deal of third-party information out there, he says, adding that social-media forums can provide valuable feedback from customers and people outside of the organization.

"You should know what people are saying about your organization, but you should know it from your employees as well as your customers," he says.

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Employee-engagement surveys can do more to help HR than just gauge how satisfied  -- or unsatisfied --  employees are with their HR departments, says Collins. While surveys are relatively inexpensive and easy to administer, that's only part of the equation, she says.

"If you do a survey and you don't go anywhere with it," she says, "that will make your reputation even worse."

A survey's completion rate doesn't matter; it's what you do with the results that can determine the impact on an employee's perceptions, says Arzonico, adding that the data can help HR leaders identify areas of concern, as well as take action toward solving particular problems and publicizing measurable successes.

Olsen agrees with Collins' notion of marketing HR accomplishments.

"Return-on-investment analysis isn't done in the HR setting like it is in marketing or operations," says Olsen, "but it should be, and being vocal about how much money HR is saving through employee retention could help raise their profile on some other opportunities, as well."

Training and development and succession-planning programs also need to be transparent enough for employees to take advantage of them, says Collins.

"You do all this work to attract high-quality talent, and your goal is to develop that talent," she says. "There should be technical as well as development-training programs."

And talent-development programs don't have to be expensive, either, she says, adding that enabling team members to serve on boards or work in a different area of the organization are both good ways to help close the perception gap between HR and workers.

"Everybody in an organization should be selling themselves," says Collins. "HR tends to not think that way, but when they don't, it's damaging."

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