Why HR Is Known as the Necessary Evil – and How to Change That

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I chose to devote my career to Human Resources due to a passion for business and an understanding of the value human capital brings to a company.

I fear however, that many professionals choose to pursue a career in HR to utilize their soft skills or the desire for a quick route to a corporate job.

Whenever HR professionals gather  — either in person, or in a thought-based endeavor — there is always a debate about why organizations seem to not value Human Resources enough, and, how to go about fixing that.

How to avoid to HR status quo

Here’s what is wrong with Human Resources today and how I have avoided falling down into the status quo:

  1. I refuse to consider myself an administrative employee. My job is not planning the company picnic, creating wacky “Sweater Wednesday,” or — please don’t make me say it! — completing faxes for anybody other than myself. I understand the importance of special events and perks to keep employees satisfied, however, these tasks can easily be spearheaded by administrative staff members (including receptionists or office managers). HR needs to stay as far away from unnecessary administrative duties as possible.
  2. Keeping a continuous focus on ensuring decisions and actions are strategic and beneficial to the business as a whole. I prefer not to spend my time following specific directions in favor of giving me more highly defined direction, especially as it pertains to human capital. It’s important to prove to your bosses that you need very little guidance and to gain their trust in order to implement new processes and procedures that increase your value as an individual employee — as well as the value of the company. This is done by providing defined metrics on HR issues including, but not limited to, employee retention, turnover, satisfaction, etc.
  3. If there is a payroll issue, direct it to accounting! Accountants are very good with numbers while I am largely more confident in other areas. Make an attempt to direct the majority of compensation related issues to accounting; it will leave your schedule open for other duties. HR’s time is much better spent on bigger picture issues compared to the monotony of processing payroll. (Thank you accounting!)
  4. Align yourself with the right people. When I first started at my current company, I reported to a middle manager and helped with administrative recruiting duties. Today is my one-year anniversary and I now report directly to the CEO. I have consulted with the business owners on numerous strategic decisions — including where and how money is spent, leading the charge for employment decisions, and presenting detailed information to other decision-makers. My advice: make sure that you are aligned with the right people to make the largest impact possible.

Obvious answers – but how many get them wrong?

All of these remedies may seem obvious, perhaps even simple-minded, but take a moment to consider how many HR professionals get these few things wrong.

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A number of HR professionals, whether because of company history and expectations or a lack of business knowledge and confidence, have created and fostered the image HR has in the minds of so many today.

Over time, getting these few things wrong has allowed the value of Human Resources to greatly decrease, and, has provided the largely accepted concept of the HR department as being a necessary workplace evil.

It’s time to turn that around.

Angela Smith is a Human Resources professional who is currently working at a Dallas-based IT staffing firm. She leads all HR efforts with a focus on employee relations, retention, and development as well as joint-employment issues. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management from the University of Oklahoma.

Contact her at angela@maxsysolutions.com.


18 Comments on “Why HR Is Known as the Necessary Evil – and How to Change That

  1. Great article Angela,

    I especially liked #1 “My job is not planning the company picnic, creating wacky “Sweater Wednesday,” …

    …not just because it’s a great line and humorous, but because it so perfectly captures, I believe, the way many HR people operate, which sadly diminishes the respect they hunger for.

    Conversely, #2 > Keeping a continuous focus on ensuring decisions and actions are strategic and beneficial — is where so many DO NOT put their attention, much to their detriment. The HR professionals I know who are seen as “players” and not administrative overhead are those who do what you do…they know the business and focus their attention on actions that clearly help their employer achieve its business goals.


    David Lee



  2. Dear Angela, thank you for throwing a light over this important area. I recently wrote about it.See what I wrote dear. Have you ever woundered why recruiters visit the nursing-homes seeking traditional HR managers? The reason recruiters requiring HR professionals with 20-30 years of experience is that they desire having HR professionals who use the traditional style of management where the HR is the FBI catching out mistakes of staff threatening them to fire them and keeping them under control! Whereas, The modern school of HR tought the current graduates of HR to provide freedom for staff members, listen to them, and improve their skills. This why organisations hate the modern HR managers.

  3. HR staff are administrative employees, and only HR people think that they are not. This article sounds like a case of ‘sucking up to the boss’!

    ‘Keeping a continuous focus on ensuring decisions and actions are strategic and beneficial ‘? HR staff have nothing to do with strategic decisions; the Board of Directors make strategy and thus take strategic decisions, and HR have ZERO input with operational decisions (implementing strategy) either, but it appears you just want to make an impression on someone (telling tales?) and judging by your comments above I would bet my salary you have made a negative one with everyone else in the business, and THAT is why nobody likes HR.

    1. Wow – as a Director of Operations and Organizational Development before I became the Managing Partner of an HR/OD Firm, all I can say is I pity the businesses you work for. You are clearly an uneducated individual with degrees, they are not one in the same. I would venture to say you don’t work for a business that is Top in it’s industry, or in the US, or in the world for that matter. When you become the Lou Gerstner, Jack Welch, Herb Kelleher kind of successful, you can come back and spout this nonsense.

    2. Ask Google CEO if he agrees with you.

      Do you think you can ensure your organisation is capable of learning, adapting and changing without HR implementation? Are you aware of how strategic training needs analysis is done? Management decides the strategic direction but the organisation may lack of the skills. Who decides to ‘buy’ or ‘make’ those skills? Management with advice of HR. HR knows the labour market better than Management. They know the ‘price’ for hiring (buying) and training (making). Training by itself does not equate to knowledge acquired. It is about the ability to apply the knowledge acquired. We call this ‘transfer of learning’. It requires strategic design of a training programme. This requires psychological knowledge.

      Do you also think by mere administrative role can retain employees and induce greater performance? Board of Directors do not have the time to make detailed strategic decisions. They just make an overall strategic decision and the various functional heads carry out strategic decision in their own respective areas.

      You are likely to have dissatisfaction with your own HR and bad experience but definitely you have a poor understanding of HR.

  4. Great points Angela. Really resonates with the HR helpdesk solution we are building here at Insynctive so HR can get out of the routine admin to focus more on strategic HR.

    Homerkjs — sounds like you’ve been exposed to some HR folks at firms that don’t value the contribution of HR which ironically hires and is responsible for a firm’s #1 asset. I spend 70% of my day speaking with HR teams and I found no shortage of brilliant ideas on how to improve companies. In most cases they are just buried under routine tasks and paper chasing so that they can’t implement their ideas.

    1. Insynctive – I am a successful Managing Director (and an MBA) with a global engineering solutions company that has a very good HR department, but have worked with other multi-nationals whose HR had a lot to be desired.

      As someone from a general management and operational management background, I think the writer is suffering from delusions of grandeur, desperately trying to ‘talk the talk’ that a site such as this will love her ‘bigging up’ HR; passing work to accounts to concentrate on ‘the bigger picture issues’ – what a joke!

      You mention ‘Strategic HR’? What is that? HR has nothing to do with making strategy. so who are you kidding? You are doing what you are told to do. Executive and/or Operational managment highlight their requirements and
      HR staff hire people based on their needs, HR people don’t decide what to do on their own.They are carrying out a task (note the above ‘ presenting detailed information to other decision-makers.’ They cannot ‘implement their ideas’ because they do not make the decisions, and not because they are buried under routine tasks (their job).

      This is the same for anyone else in any department in a business/company (all with ‘brilliant’ ideas of how they can make the busines perform better than the (more qualified) senior management.

      it is only HR that feels they are something more than other departments, and that ‘they’ are different from everyone else – what other department would have the audacity to try and rebrand thmselves as ‘partners’? The Accounting Partners? Operations Partners? Logistics Partners? Another reason why HR is not liked within businesses.

      Re ‘Navyguy”s comment below, I like many others like me, understand the real learning at business schools – strategy is made at the top of the business, ensure the company works in an ethical manner whilst making profits for its owners.

      HR has a position in every business and it is how I have described it above. Hint for you Navyguy – the HR textbooks you might have read in business schools are written by HR people, so whatever you have read , ‘they would say that wouldnt they?’ But look around nobody in the real world world (except HR people that is) believe it, and that is why HR is where it is now.

      1. Homerkjs, you sound like a bitter old guy who had his own share of “run-ins” with HR over the years for your poor people skills and now you trash HR anywhere and any way you can. If you’re a “successful managing director” why are you trolling blog posts on sites for HR people? Don’t you have better stuff to be doing?

      2. Having been in both in operations and HR, I am sorry to say that you are drastically mistaken when you say that HR has nothing to do with strategy. Just try and implement your so called strategy without any human interaction. You can do all the thinking and strategizing you want, but all of that is only a dream until you add humans to work your plan. That is where HR and OD come in. Yes, HR has its administrative functions, so does every department. HR does have a major part in strategy as well. Agreed that some HR departments do not see the need or are asked to be a part in planning process. Operations managers like yourself, need to ask and train HR professionals what your human capital needs are and how to best implement them. If you would involve your HR more you would give t

        1. If you would involve your HR more you would give them a chance to prove that they have and can create value also. Do not do strategic planning alone and see what happens.

  5. My feelings to HR are mixed; I think that over the past 10 years there has been an attempt within HR to position itself as the key strategic player within a business, just as marketing did during the 90s. The rallying cry of the HR apologist is, “people are our most important asset, therefore the HR dept is the most important department”. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong; HR is vital in any business, but most HR that matters isn’t carried out by the HR dept. Line managers are the people responsible for the HR for 99% of all employees; the HR department is really only a place where organisational ‘hygiene’ occurs (administrative functions and compliance issues etc.). Again, that isn’t to say you can’t have good people working in the HR dept., but they are probably being wasted there, because they aren’t going to be interacting with the right people most of the time. In my former life as a recruitment consultant, I became acquainted with numerous HR depts. At best they were mere administrative functions, useful but not strategic, at worst outright hindrances to organisational performance.

    Does HR matter? Yes, but most of its value is the point where it is being applied, i.e. the line manager coordinating his direct reports. Focus your efforts for managing your human capital there.

    1. I like this comment so much. this is the right way of thinking about HR. the most important responsibilties of people management have to be carried out by line managers and they are being already. so what is the right role for HR Dep in an organization?
      in my point of view, the HR has to focus on:
      1- development of HR Systems and Processes to facilitate the service giving to staffs
      2- the analysis of whole company’s HR Factors like diversity, culture and etc
      3- advise line managers and develop better people management skills
      4- set strategies, procedures, policies and processes for whole company from Human Resource point of view.
      5- labour relation issues
      and finaly the administrative job, please let it go to Admin department.

    2. I do not quite agree that Line Managers are the people responsible for the HR for 99% of all employees. How many Line Managers are well trained in HR and human psychology to ensure that their Staff are motivated and productive enough? How many Line Managers are capable of molding the corporate culture as an individual? Do Line Managers have the power to create a performance management system?

      When a HR department only have a ‘administrative’ perception of itself and not given the power to take strategic lead, then yes, Line Managers are responsible and if that is the case, then the company is not operating at optimum.

      Line Managers do have a role in HRM. They are more knowledgeable than HR people on their own functions. Hence, they are the right person to decide who to hire based on Knowledge, Skills and Abilities. However, a professional HR comes into the picture to consider the candidate’s personality, values and ability to fit into the corporate culture. There is no point in getting a talent whose characteristics do not fit into the company. He/she will not stay for long due to being dissatisfied. They are indeed hygiene factors but you cannot have motivators taking effect without hygiene fulfilled first according to Herzberg’s theory of motivation. Furthermore, there are no strong evidence for his theory. Hygiene factors do motivate (depends on culture and individuals). Social needs need to be fulfilled but is it really ‘hygiene’ being administrative? Not true. From Social Psychological view, prejudice can be resolved through contact under the ‘contact hypothesis’ theory. It depends on how you host your activities.

      Other than judging the person based on knowledge, abilities and skills, which HR does not have the best knowledge and personally being a good leader, I cannot see how Line Manager has a greater role in HR. A professional HR should be trained well in the social sciences especially Psychology, Social Psychology and Sociology. They know about biases better and will be better equipped to strategically design systems that will minimise their impact. Line Managers are more equipped with their own field’s technical knowledge but not these areas.

      Regarding Motivators factor, HR does play a part. Job Design influence how Staff feel about their own job nature. Performance Appraisal System influenced Staff on their perception on their own Achievements (e.g. Way to set KPIs). The HR Development System influenced Staff’s perception on career advancement & personal growth. The corporate culture managed by HR can influence Staff’s sense of responsibility. The compensation & benefits can influence Staff’s perception of being recognised. As a whole if HR does a good job, then the Employer’s branding will be very good and Staff will have a sense of pride to be part of the company.

      And not forgetting Knowledge Management and creating a Learning Organisation where HR plays a big part including suggesting how the office should be designed to increase learning.

      And in view of Social Influence, which is more powerful? An individual Line Manager or a corporate culture with all its system influencing individuals even the Line Manager? An individual is already affected by normative social influence when in a group, how much more if it is a whole company with all the integrated well designed systems? So I don’t see any justification why Line Managers are responsible for 99% as if HR department has no value. HR department is still seen has merely administrative because in those companies they either hire HR people who are not well equipped or they are not aware of what HR professionals are capable of and not given them the power to make strategic decisions.

  6. Good article. I take exception to your recommendation to let accountants handle compensation, though. Payroll yes. Compensation belongs to HR.

    My favorite description of good HR people is “business people who understand HR” rather than “HR people who understand business.” That is why I always suggest to those who ask that they pursue business degrees not HR degrees.

  7. HR was the result of trying to create a more ergonomic working environment in the United States for employees who went to work for the WWII war effort. It has evolved little since then, at least in the Western hemisphere; sadly, the mantra about people being a company’s best asset is simply BS. HR has not yet developed into what it can
    be although I think your ideas are -refreshingly- on the right track even though they might be a bit too Utopian for the average MBA or old-school corporate hacks, as reflected in the comment sequence here.
    As a former consultant for an HR consultancy, the inside joke I was most exposed to, which I was sadly able to validate in most S-type SMEs, is that HR is usually a) the company comptroller, b) the boss’s wife who once started a neat employee manual, or c) a semi-retired lady who worked at a large utility issuing cheques for 35 years
    and is now “HR” in a small company.
    In larger companies, it’s all about getting the resources to do the job, with little concern for depth…
    Up until HR recently tried to assert itself by creating designations, orders and associations, most HR big cheeses had labour lawyer degrees or CA papers. This was, and, in some cases, continues to be, HR, to say nothing of the generalists at the lower end of the scale…
    HR’s true value, in my opinion, will only shine when the workforce has had enough of the consumerist gluttony, imposed by the average consumer who wants more for less. This sickening mentality is naturally pandered to by companies all-too-eager to provide better goods or services at lower prices (supposedly). Naturally, they squeeze their
    employees who have to bear the brunt of this madness if they want to keep their
    jobs. This causes employees who have predispositions to mental health issues to
    be more vulnerable, and, in some cases, affected. Ergo the births of such expressions like “going postal” with all the horrors that entails. And if you still don’t see it, look at the Foxconn mutinies, where people are being worked like saves so the average consumer can have a device with the logo of a fruit on it for only a small fortune.
    My guess: HR will only shine via the field of psychology as the workforce begins to crack from this idiocy… Hopefully, the labour lawyers and CAs at the top of this industry will be eclipsed by shrinks, who will have their hands quite full trying to deal with this mess.
    How that will go is anyone’s guess…
    For now, the very concept of HR remains relegated to the closet in a world run by MBAs, and real strategic business decisions (which are often phrased by expressions such as “how many gizmos have we sold in the last quarter?) and the like.
    HR has a long way to go and in many contexts and playing fields.
    But I like your thoughts and have used some of your practices myself…

  8. I’d like to add another perspective…HR is the gateway to the organization…It usually claims responsibility for both sourcing and screening; however, I have seldom met a line manager who thinks HR’s sourcing/screening activities are effective….And, don’t put all the blame on Line managers…HR is the employee QC department. Line only sees people HR has pre-screened…The only way HR can build value and earn Line respect is to actually be the people and job experts it claims to be. Once that happens, productivity can double. Why? Because more unqualified candidates will be screened out.

    Here is a quick test to see if HR is doing the best employee screening job it can: First, check out this site:

    1) Does HR know about these ‘Guidelines? If not, read them. These guidelines are the only way HR can build a better workforce, fend-off legal challenges, earn line manager’s respect, screen-out more dead-wood employees, and contribute directly to the bottom line. (And no, they do not include 10 magic interview questions).
    2 Does HR ignore the ‘Guidelines or think they are optional? You tell me. What would happen to a Line manager who did not know how (or refused) to do the best job he/she could?

  9. I found this article very refreshing and I thank you for writing and sharing this. I sincerely appreciate it as an HR professional myself.

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