There’s no question that there are things that HR can do to change how we service both the business and our employees. The other side of the coin that rarely gets discussed is how HR is fairly low in the food chain when we look at the contributing factors of why the overall workforce has challenges and issues.
The decision to lag the market, lead the market or remain stagnant with regard to wages- like what we have seen in recent years is administered and managed by Compensation. However, wage increases or stagnation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It has to have higher levels of approval than HR. We can say HR may not be as diligent about pushing back, but how far can we really push it? Unless you have a CEO or CFO who appreciates the value of HR’s consultation; HR is fighting a war with no armaments.
If you canvas the open job vacancies online long enough, you will find a strong presence of job descriptions that appear to include responsibilities and duties enough to for 2 FTE’s ; but it is being marketed for one person. In addition, if you go a step further and apply to a few of these jobs and are lucky to have a conversation with some of these companies; you will also find that the pay isn’t nearly as competitive or fair as you would expect given the employer’s expectations. It’s easy to ask HR why wages are down or stagnant, but perhaps we should be asking the CEO’s why they choose to stagnate wage increases when it is clear that they want more from their workforce. What is further interesting is: a 2014 report from The Economic Policy Institute reports that CEO wages at the largest corporations have increased 937% since 1978 (when adjusted for inflation). According to Rebecca Hiscott of the Huffington Post, the average worker’s compensation grew only 10.2% during that same time period.
Less income has caused lower assets, decreased net worth, increased debt and liabilities. Throw in familial obligations and other personal concerns coupled with work pressures and it may not be hard to understand how we still have around 70% of the workforce being disengaged. I believe the tone gets set at the top. Toxic leadership often leads to toxic HR, particularly when we don’t have the balls to speak up or leave. HR can only be effective in addressing workforce issues if and only if the CEO values the people. They don’t have to necessarily love and buy into what we do in HR. If they have a talent first mentality, they will urge HR to do whatever is necessary to attract and retain talent. Under these circumstances, HR has advocacy at the top as well as the license to create programs and initiatives that favor both the business and employees .
As an HR practitioner, I have had the experience of working in many different environments. Despite our best efforts to make a change or address a concern in our organizations, there were many instances where no changes were made (or the changes were completely different from our initial recommendation). This happens because; ultimately we are not the final authority. A lot of what we do is in consultation to our internal partners. We can argue that the quality and substance of our consultation are the contributing factors to the success of any workforce change or initiative. Still, owners, founders and figureheads need to shoulder some of the responsibility for workforce related issues. I’m not blind or ignorant to the unnecessary complexity and toxicity HR is capable of creating in an organization separate and apart from the CEO’s vision; but it doesn’t come from nowhere.
There was a time that CEO’s could say they “didn’t know” or “they weren’t aware” of the systemic issues in their companies. With social media being the go-to platform to expose companies for everything from fraudulent practices to unfair and discriminatory workplace conditions, you better know what’s going on in your company and be vigilant about addressing any issues. HR can do a lot, but we can only do as much as executive leadership will allow. If the organization is driven by greed and lining the pockets of board members and leadership, HR will be directed to aid and abet that approach.
The question then becomes an ethical and moral one for HR. If you are working in a company that is not doing right by the employees (including HR), do you continue to fight beyond your obvious lack of power settling for marginal wins or do you keep your head down and do as you are told?