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An Honest Look into Working in an HR Department
Picture this: you’re meeting someone for the first time. You’re asking the typical ‘get to know you’ questions, such as:
“What do you do for work?”
They answer with: “I work in HR!“
This answer often unconsciously forms a picture of an office worker, fielding complaint after complaint from employees – a “people person,” trained to deal with employee conflict.
Is this completely incorrect? No. Is it the whole picture? Most definitely not.
In this article, we’ll be discussing what it really means to be an HR professional. We will debunk some myths, delve into some of the more complex realities of this role and help build a character profile of someone who would thrive in this profession. Whether you’re looking to upskill into a human resources management role, or you’re looking to change your career path altogether to step into HR, reading this article will help prepare you for the exciting, but challenging reality of an HR job.
What is Human Resources?
The majority of larger corporations will have some variation of the Human Resources Department. Depending on the size of the company (i.e. the number of employees) and the business structure, some companies only have a small number of HR specialists. In contrast, others have an extensive network of people responsible for all things employee performance-management related.
In recent years, the typical HR department has shifted to be regarded as a more strategic entity – most noticeably in progressives industries. The voices of HR directors or managers are becoming increasingly important during organisation-wide negotiations, policy changes and business decisions. Hence, thorough knowledge in employment law and labour relations is important when working in HR management.
The roles available within an HR department vary from company to company; however, in larger corporations, typical job titles include:
HR Director or Manager
This is a leading role, and the individual is usually responsible for a team of HR specialists and generalists. This person is the primary contact person between the HR department and C-Suite (the CEO, CFO and COO).
At the very least, the department head’s opinion and strategy plan is considered when making organisation-wide decisions and changes.
This role (if applicable) acts as the right hand to the person in charge. They oversee most, if not all, details of the department, such as:
- Interview processes and recruitment
- Allocation of training of new employees
- Inter-office communications
- The organisation of company events/plans
Human Resources Specialists
People in these roles specialise in specific HR tasks. Specialisations are more common in larger corporations with more employees. Some people will specialise in particular areas, including:
- Benefits and compensation management
- HRIS – Information technology
- Employee dispute investigations and communications
Human Resources Generalists
This HR role is an ‘all-rounder’ position. These people are in charge of multiple tasks within the department, including:
- Business administration tasks
- Employee relations and communication
- Employee benefits
- Training and interviewing
A company’s largest asset is its human capital. Hence, the representative body of the HR department increasingly functions as pseudo business partners who specialise in HR, rather than HR-trained individuals working for a business.
Working in Human Resources: A Reality Check
Many people still consider HR as just a nurturing, people-person, ‘soft skills’ career. Although interpersonal communication, people management skills and general empathy are essential attributes to possess as an HR specialist – they are not the whole role.
5 Myths of Working in HR
Myth: Working in HR means fielding and dealing with employee complaints all day.
Reality: Typical HR departments do not field complaints of small disagreements or miscommunication in the office. However, HR is highly involved in cultivating a positive work culture. Hence, reports of workplace misconduct, abuse or harassment must be taken very seriously. Proper procedures and strategies are put in place to effectively investigate such instances to ensure a safer and fair work environment, as well as an equal employment opportunity.
Myth: Working in HR is a purely people-orientated role.
Reality: Yes, working in HR means your work directly affects the people of the company, but this doesn’t mean HR is all about and only about the people. HR works to ensure the company achieves its goals through its human capital. Human resources management often weigh in on strategic business decisions and hence, need analytical data to back up their claims and suggestions.
Myth: Working in HR means you’re isolated from the rest of the company.
Reality: As a human resources professional, you are a business person too. Your work directly affects all employees of the company from the C-suite (CEO, CFO, COO) down to the bottom of the corporate ladder. Although a lot of HR work is kept confidential, open communication and mutual understanding between HR and other departments are critical to establishing effective work procedures and changes.
Myth: HR workers just suggest – they do not do.
Reality: Often an overlooked reality, working in HR comes with some tough decisions, awkward encounters and difficult conversations. HR not only provides strategic suggestions to help build company profitability via their employees – but you also have to implement them if approved by the executives. This means explaining salary cuts, terminations, redundancies and rejection of leave to relevant employees.
Myth: HR only cares about the company’s bottom line.
Reality: HR is a highly strategised and procedure-driven department that does exist to help achieve business goals. However, you’re also a part of the department capable of implementing real, beneficial change for its employees! Above all else, HR employees are human and you want to see your fellow employees thrive and enjoy their work environment. So, if approached correctly, by working in HR you could become their biggest ally.
HR Employee Character Profile
As you can already tell, working within HR involves a plethora of skills, experience and resilience. Let’s now give you an idea of the type of person who would thrive while working in HR.
Someone who is proactive, organised and adaptable
Whether you’re in HR management or an HR assistant, the aim is to minimise the need for crisis management. Working in HR requires forward-thinking to accurately assess potential risk and undergo strategic planning to put out fires well before they’re even an ember.
Someone who understands that company change doesn't come from just being "nice"
Working in HR can be a juggling act of emotions, bruised egos, data and figures. Working in HR, you’ll be the bearer of bad news for some, while the support system for others. The ability to be both firm and empathetic is critical.
Someone who knows when the employee comes first
You may face some heavy allegations and grey areas while working in HR. First and foremost should always be the employee’s well-being – despite possible company threat. This means your ability to be flexible in understanding when to put the employee before company procedure is important.
Someone who thinks teamwork is imperative
HR is a collaborative department. The ability to not only work with people in your team but all employees is essential to job growth in this field. Establishing sure, confident footholds within all departments of a company is important to achieve the implementation and follow-through of HR goals.
Someone who is a great analytical thinker
It’s time to start regarding HR as the strategic force that it is! More and more companies are turning to data-driven policy decisions, even when it comes to their employees. Hence, being able to read, understand and consider analytics to help logically guide decisions is important.
Starting Your Career in HR
Are you interested in making the jump into HR? Good career choice! Strong industry growth is projected for Human Resource professionals in Australia, with over 80% of workers in this industry securing full-time employment.
Although numerous education pathways lead to HR, most people looking to enter this field hold a Diploma qualification or above. Over 35% of workers in this field go on to complete a Bachelor’s degree, particularly if they want to progress to an HR management role or senior HR positions.
Whether you’re looking to jump straight into a generalist Human Resources role, or you want to improve your management skills, a course focusing on the development of Human Resources skills is a valuable asset.
Think HR is the Right Fit for You?
There are many factors to consider when choosing a career path, whether it’s your first or fifth. One of the most crucial things to understand is how your skill set will help you succeed in the industry.
5 Skills a HR Professional Needs to Overcome Common Issues
Find out if you have these five vital skills needed to thrive in human resources.
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