Opinion

There are no magic wands in HR

3 min read

29 January 2013

Employment law isn't everything; HR needs a human approach, says Pam Rogerson.

I read with dismay Jan Cavelle’s article on the quality of advice she received from her HR consultants. No employer, when paying for guidance, wants to hear a cop out, nor do they want to hear what they can’t do, but rather what they can do. A good adviser will give workable, business-oriented solutions independently suited to that company. All too often, employers feel that it’s a battle between themselves and the employee, and that the business has one hand tied behind its back. Effective counsel should help an organisation to find different ways of working through the issue.

HR is not just about employment law, it’s about people; it needs a human approach. The letter of the law doesn’t necessarily apply to every scenario, which means that companies don’t just have to like it or lump it, there are often alternative options available. It may mean the slight commercial risk of a claim, but when all things are considered, the result may be a better overall outcome. I would rather deal with an issue quickly and concisely, maybe missing out a step or two of the bureaucratic procedure. If it means the rest of the workforce is free from disruption then the benefit may outweigh the cost.

Increasingly, small companies are forced to employ third parties to conduct various stages of a process, where an investigation, disciplinary and appeal are dealt with by three different people. That isn’t always possible for small companies to manage, but they shouldn’t be penalised or put to additional cost as a result.

It’s incumbent on an effective consultant to research the facts and fully understand the nuances of opinion regarding any situation. It sounds like Jan’s “one-man-bands” have not been asking the right questions on either side of the issue.

Although some rules do apply to both large and small companies when it comes to managing and nurturing personal relationships, smaller businesses require more one-on-one interaction between senior management and employees. HR advisers need to identify exactly which aspects of the relationship their client needs their hand holding on.

It goes without saying; your consultants need to be fully qualified, have professional indemnity insurance and their references must be thoroughly checked. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to gauge the quality of independent operators.

I’d recommend a slightly amended New Year’s resolution for Jan: absolutely trust your own knowledge of your staff, but if there does come a point where you need some help, work with a reputable company with the resources, expertise and experience to properly manage a small business’ needs. It will end up proving far more cost-effective in the long run.

Pam Rogerson FCIPD is HR/operations director at the Employment Law Advisory Service (ELAS).