Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Partners Carol-Ann Jordan and Jacqueline Belgrave
I am in HR and manage the HR Department for my workplace. I feel like my role is becoming less about organisational change and employee development and more about conflict management and enforcement of policies dictated from elsewhere. This is not what I signed up for. Why is this happening and what can I do about it?
An examination of the business landscape, especially as it relates to employment relations, will show that there have been some changes.
To answer your question, we must look at some of these changes and their impact on workplaces and on the HR function itself.
Understanding how the HR function has come to be, and the context within which HR operates, is also important to answering the question you have asked.
This should also assist you as you grapple with both your purpose and that of the HR function at this time.
The first thing is that, when introduced, the focus and activities of the HR function were seen as an integral part of the business’ strategy at the time, in response to a specific stimulus.
Today, that stimulus is not having the same effect and business environment is adapting to this change.
As a discipline, HR came to the fore in this region in the early 1990’s – not too long ago if you really think about it. In metropolitan countries, the function had developed quite some time prior.
Wherever it was established, the HR function was designed to assist in the creation of a work place in which the employees’ perceived need for trade union representation and the disruption caused by industrial action, could be minimised.
Initially, the employee’s role was not seen as contributing to the business’ success. Labour market dynamics made labour (people) easily replaceable and they had little opportunity to negotiate with the employer.
As a result, their dissatisfaction was voiced – made known to the employer – by trade union organisations.
Employees realised that by working collectively, they were in a much better position to influence employers’ actions.
Employers, however, were uncomfortable with a third party coming into their organisations seeking to influence the direction of, and decisions in, their workplaces. It was within this context that the HR function was added to the organisation’s structure.
It was tasked with driving an internal focus on employee development, motivation and recognition – all of which prior were absent from the interactions between the worker and the employer.
It was felt that with this focus, employees would be less inclined to join trade unions to represent them.
As the trade union’s activity increased, the HR role’s influence in the workplace also increased because in essence, that was its reason for being.
It was designed to reduce the influence or the potential influence exerted in the workplace by these external workers’ representatives.
Their reduced influence in these times will inevitably affect the role and function of HR within the organisation.
Secondly, it is important to appreciate the context within which HR functions. In this region especially, in general the applicable “labour” legislation was the Master and Servant Act.
Its title says quite a lot about the nature of the relationships and the culture of the workplaces influenced by this legislation. Until the need to reduce the influence of the trade union organisations arose, workplace interactions with workers in the region generally modelled historical relationships.
Even though the Employment Rights Act is now in place locally, aimed at recognising and legislating the contractual nature of the interaction between the employer and the employees, it is impossible to legislate trust, perception and the quality of relationships between parties.
Thirdly, the last few years have negatively impacted the profitability of businesses. Maintaining what is considered a healthy bottom line and return on investment are the primary aims of the private sector business; keeping expenses to a minimum is the present financial aim of the public sector enterprise.
In the light of this, the strategies employed by business entities will attempt to ensure these primary objectives are met.
In the current environment however, HR initiatives aimed at creating motivating environments may be assessed by the associated cost (expense) to the business and not on their effectiveness, developmental potential or the goodwill likely to be created.
The change in the business’ focus to recouping lost profits could result in a change in some aspects of its business strategy and this could result in a change in the
HR interventions which focus on employee development, rewards, recognition and the like.
Additionally, in an environment in which the voices of workers (through their representatives) are also greatly reduced, the traditional HR intervention may no longer be a primary or necessary business strategy.
However, we must always be mindful that there are inherent, inevitable antagonisms in the relationship between the employer and the employee and, as a result, the potential for conflict is always present.
Conflict management also falls within the purview of the HR practitioner, and given the requirements of the Employment Rights Act, workplaces have had to re-adjust to comply with the legal imperatives brought by its enactment.
To do this, the HR function has been forced to turn its attention increasingly on the enforcement of and adherence to rules, policies and procedures and has full responsibility for oversight of the processes to ensure the business’ rules policies etc. are adhered to.
The HR role is changing to continue to meet the organisation’s needs at this time and you may have realized that its focus is less on the aspects of the function with which you are most comfortable or in which you are most interested.
What can you do about this? Honestly, there is not much that you can do to avert these changes.
You should discuss your observations with your own manager so that you can have a better sense of what is being required of your HR role at this time. Then, you should be able to better assess and determine your next steps.
About Lifeline Labour Solutions: Lifeline Labour Solutions is a boutique partnership providing people management solutions to workplace challenges Partners Carol-Ann Jordan and Jacqueline Belgrave are established practitioners with a wealth of knowledge and experience in Employment Relations, Labour Relations and Human Resource Management between them. Email: [email protected] lifelinelabour.com; Tel: 1(246)247-5213