Traditionally, HR has been viewed as the “employee advocate” in organizations. As the voice for employee concerns, HR professionals traditionally have been seen as “company morale officers” who do not understand the business realities of the organizations and do not contribute measurably to the strategic success of the business. Some have even suggested dismantling HR departments totally because they contribute little to the productivity and growth of organizations.
Despite this view, HR plays a valuable role as the “champion” for employees and employee issues. One example is the stress that many employees feel when balancing work and family pressures. HR professionals must be the advocate for employees, recognizing that they have other lives besides work, and ensuring that organizational policies and practices consider these pressures. Otherwise, in many cases, the organization loses valuable human resources who do not want to continue working in a “family-unfriendly” environment. Closely related, HR professionals spend considerable time on HR “crisis management” dealing with employee problems that are both work and non-work related. Another facet of employee advocacy is to ensure that fair and equitable treatment is given to people regardless of their personal background or circumstances.
Some entity inside the organization must monitor employee situations and respond to employee complaints about unfair treatment or inappropriate actions. Otherwise, employers would face even more lawsuits and regulatory complaints than they do now.
As HR management has changed, it has become clear that there is a need for HR to balance being the advocate for employees and being a business contributor.
What this balancing means is that it is vital for HR professionals to represent employee issues and concerns in the organization. However, just being an effective employee advocate is not sufficient. Instead, the HR professionals must be strategic contributors, partners with operating managers, administratively efficient, and cost effective.
The traditional administrative and operational roles of HR management have broadened to include more strategic facets. It should be emphasized that as HR roles shift to the right, the previous roles still must be met and the additional ones performed.
Also, the continuum shows that the primary focus of HR as it becomes more strategic, changes to considerations with longer time horizons and the broader impact of HR decisions.
Administrative Role of HR Management
The administrative role of HR management is heavily oriented to processing and record keeping. Maintaining employee files and HR-related databases, processing employee benefits claims, answering questions about tuition and/or sick leave policies, and compiling and submitting required state and federal government reports are all examples of the administrative nature of HR management. These activities must be performed efficiently and promptly. However, this role resulted in HR management in some organizations getting
the reputation of paper shufflers who primarily tell managers and employees what cannot be done. If limited to the administrative role, HR staff are seen primarily as clerical and lower-level administrative contributors to the organization.
In some organizations these administrative functions are being outsourced to external providers, rather than being done inside the HR departments. Also, technology is being used to automate many of the administrative tasks.
Operational Role of HR Management
Operational activities are tactical in nature. Compliance with equal employment opportunity and other laws must be ensured, employment applications must be processed, current openings must be filled through interviews, supervisors must be trained, safety problems must be resolved, and wages and salaries must be administered.
In short, a wide variety of the efforts performed typically are associated with coordinating the management of HR activities with the actions of managers and supervisors throughout the organization. This operational emphasis still exists in some organizations, partly because of individual limitations of HR staff members and partly because of top management’s resistance to an expanded HR role. Typically, the operational role requires HR professionals to identify and implement operational programs and policies in the organization. They are the major implementors of the HR portion of organizational strategic plans developed by top management, rather than being deeply involved in developing those strategic plans.