I held a number of senior posts in several large complex organisations where trade Union membership had declined over the years such that membership was below 50%. Managers keen to push through changes that would reduce costs and improve efficiency were only restrained by the “advice” of HR. It was HR that acted as the organisation’s moral compass. It was HR who sort to ensure fairness in the way staff were treated. Whether this was in the introduction of new working practices or redeployment.
It was HR that policed the recruitment process to ensure fairness and encourage diversity. It was HR who oversaw the grievance process were an employee felt they had been unfairly treated by their manager. It was HR who cautioned line managers against over hasty action in response to misconduct, who facilitated an independent investigation, who monitored the disciplinary process to ensure it was fair advising senior managers like me at every stage including hearings.
So when I came across the idea of HR as an Employee Champion it seemed to me a natural extension of the role I had previously experienced. The idea is that HR should be dedicated to improving the organisation as a place to work. A safe place free from harassment, bullying and discrimination. A place that promotes Wellbeing and awareness of mental health as well as enforcing health and safety regulations. That HR would champion fairness and equality of treatment for employees.
How people experience an organisation is strongly influenced by their relationship with their line manager. Hence the truism people leave managers not organisations. As Employee champions HR would want to improve the quality of management by supporting and developing managers especially their people skills.
An expanded role for HR to improve the organisation as a place to work should not be seen as replacing the role of Trade Unions in collective bargaining or advocating on behalf of a member(s) In fact in my experience HR and the organisation can derive significant benefit from the ability to consult and engage with employee groups through their trade Union reps.
HR as the organisation’s moral compass, a change agent, an employee champion, a force for good. That just feels so inspiring.