While many employees look at Human Resources as the “scary oversight” team or perhaps even paper-pushers, HR departments get much less credit than what they deserve.
“We handle strategy and growth. We help with salary increases, comp structures, banding, reporting lines, creating job descriptions, and making sure that you have the best information available to you,” says Kylie Cimmino, a consultant with Fairfield, New Jersey-based HR consulting firm Red Clover.
More data-driven than ever, HR teams are adopting new platforms and tools to help the organization use its employees, benefits, and culture as a competitive advantage. HR is also tasked with crafting a compelling culture. After all, a 2018 report from Robert Half found that one-third of candidates would turn down a job if the company wasn’t a good cultural fit.
But HR teams tend to be understaffed. More than half (51 percent) of respondents to this year’s Human Resources Executive’s survey “What’s Keeping HR Leaders Up at Night?” said they didn’t have enough staff to appropriately handle their workload —a 5 percent jump over 2018.
To be able to do their jobs effectively and to bring their strategic and critical contributions to the company, already understaffed HR teams need to streamline inefficiencies and eliminate distractions, says Cimmino –so, yes, Bob losing his health insurance paperwork for the third time really doesn’t help anyone.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the best way to deal with HR is remembering 6 things you need to avoid doing:
1. Missing deadlines or losing paperwork
Chances are that you were told multiple times and through several different methods when your company’s open enrollment period is, when you needed to opt in to a new program, or when to RSVP to the company retreat. And when you miss those deadlines or lose basic paperwork, you create headaches for all involved, says Matthew Burr, founder of Elmira, New York based HR consulting firm Burr Consulting.
“If you’ve got to print out forms two or three times for someone, that becomes a frustration,” he says. When possible, use automated options, such as benefits portals, to download forms and note important deadlines on your calendar.
2. Ignoring the employee handbook
Whether it’s online or housed in a thick binder in your office, the employee handbook isn’t just a useless collection of rules. Many routine questions can be answered by first consulting the handbook, and you may even find out about policies or benefits that you didn’t realize you had, Cimmino says. Before you pick up the phone to ask HR a question about policies or benefits, consult your handbook. “You’ll often find that you had the answer all along,” she says.
3. Blowing off meetings
If you do need face time with HR, take the meeting as seriously as you would any other. Employees often treat HR members’ time loosely, running late to meetings or cancelling them at the last minute. That’s as disruptive for the HR team as anyone else. Keeping meetings and being on time “makes me see that you’re serious and you care, and you’re valuing your time and mine and you want to get things handled,” Cimmino says.
4. Rejecting change
When employees are inflexible and refuse to accept new ways of doing things, conflict may ensue, says Sue Andrews, fellow of the UK-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. There are times when employees resist, even when changes are made because management requested them.
“Sometimes, staff can be a little inflexible about things and take the view that, ‘Why should I have to change?’ Rather than perhaps taking a step back and thinking, ‘Well, what’s the bigger picture here? Why are the company asking for this change?’” says Andrews. When you opt for the latter, you may see that there are valid reasons for the shift, she adds.
5. Not reporting injuries or accidents
When employees fail to do this on the job, “they create additional issues for both the company and the injured employee,” Burr says. If a dangerous situation caused an accident or injury, it needs to be rectified right away. And companies may have their own protocol or requirements for dealing with injuries or accidents on the job, according to Burr. Immediate reporting also helps the individual get immediate treatment and prevent exacerbating the injury or situation by delaying medical or other appropriate attention.
6. Involving HR too soon
The HR team can be invaluable in mediating disputes, but that typically shouldn’t happen before you’ve tried to resolve the situation yourself.
“In my experience, the biggest gripe that teams have is that employees will frequently raise an issue formally to HR before they have tried to resolve the matter informally,” says Andrews. “The problem is that once HR is involved, matters will naturally become more formal and a situation that could have easily been resolved becomes more complex.” The situation may also become more contentious between the employees involved in the dispute, she says.
Of course, there are some situations that warrant going directly to HR —for example, when the individual’s supervisor is acting inappropriately— and, in those cases, employees should use the resource. But, for less severe matters, trying to iron out differences one-on-one or with a supervisor’s help can avoid an escalated situation.
Being as judicious in using HR team members’ time and resources as you would any other co-worker is a good guideline in developing strong relationships with this employee-centered team. And not losing your paperwork over and over helps, too.
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—How “recession-proof” is your job?
—How the World’s Best Workplaces create a great global culture
—5 TED Talk strategies to be more compelling at work
—If you want a higher paying job, the time to quit is now—How this daughter of immigrant farmers found her comms job at Tyson
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