Written by Julie Roper

For many, the need to talk to Human Resources won’t be over something pleasant. It could be a number of things: a complaint over working conditions; a grievance at consistently being denied promotion; or to report being harassed  If these issues are not resolved quickly, the individual affected could resign in a manner that could amount to constructive dismissal. If complaints are left to fester, it can sometimes feel that the Human Resources department of the company you work for doesn’t care for humans at all, but only rigid policies and procedures. The way that each situation of conflict

is handled will determine whether an atmosphere of trust and respect is maintained.

The Worst Meeting of All

By far the most dreaded conversation with Human Resources will be the one that is not of your own volition, the one that results in redundancy. It is likely to have been preceded by a recognition that the company is struggling, possibly fuelled by negative coverage in the local or national news. Weeks or months of rumours, via whispers in the corridors or by the water cooler, will naturally leave everyone on edge as they anticipate a nasty phone call or a sudden tap on the shoulder. In spite of how the information is delivered, the decision will have already been taken, and be irreversible.

Permanent employees don’t want flexibility; they want a regular income and the comfort of knowing that each month will bring the same amount as the last. Only then will they be able to plan their purchases, be it a new house, a new car, holidays, renovations, repairs, and all manner of unforeseen hiccups, such as a broken fridge, a malfunctioning boiler, or a leaking tap. To bring peace of mind is what many financial products are precisely designed to achieve, and are certainly something that people should consider paying for, and what many gladly do. It is always a good idea to know your legal employment rights. It is not only redundancy that can be protected against, but also sickness, long-term injury or any other trauma. The merits of safeguarding regular earning ability are well-documented, especially in such uncertain economic times.

From One Person to Another

Getting the difficult conversations wrong leads to bitterness, resentment, or worse still, legal action, as highlighted above. Getting them right doesn’t equate to everybody smiling, but should leave the departing worker feeling as though they have at least been treated with respect. A redundancy package that matches the level and time of service should be awarded to reflect that. Horror stories about people being laid off by text, e-mail, or even with a voicemail message left on their home phone while they are on holiday are all too common. Above all, an employee should be treated like a human being, and not an employee identification number.

Creating a culture of policing the company – and more!

There can be a disconnect between what Human Resources are trying to achieve and how they are perceived. This is not helped if they are segregated from the rest of the business, which can create a them-and-us atmosphere. If one of the roles of Human Resources is to police the company, it is a valid argument that there should be representatives permanently located with the other employees. This visibility would certainly help to discourage more obvious displays of harassment or bullying, as well as making more accessible to people an outlet for everyday issues as well as more serious ones. Clarification on company policies, for example, may centre around appraisal procedures, training opportunities, and other means of individual development, such as internal role transfers. Policy documents posted on company intranets can rarely cover the variety of employee circumstances and resultant questions that may arise.

Redefining Human Resources


Not every company feels that Human Resources best describes the work typically assigned to that department. Recently, Peter Jones, one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs and star of the BBC’s hugely popular ‘Dragon’s Den’, hosted Peter Jones Meets, which detailed the strategies and stories of the people behind many other successful UK companies. One of these was Timpson, established in 1865 and currently renowned for shoe repairs and key-cutting in addition to a host of other services. Employees at Timpson are given the freedom to choose what they are called, and the head of what to many would be Human Resources decided to name his department ‘People Support’ to reflect more accurately what they do. Chief Executive Officer of the company, John Timpson CBE, believes that this term contributes greatly to the culture of empowerment that he always tries to promote. “People Support,” he said, “doesn’t dominate the way we run the business. They help us run the business the way we want to run it.” This sort of collaborative message can only be positive to employee morale.