Ed. Note-as readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan of HR as an integral part of a best practices compliance program. What many reader may not know is that I have a Master’s degree from Michigan State University from the School now named Human Resources and Labor Relations. With that background I was interested when I was contacted by Julianna Davies, who is a writer and researcher for MBA Online, a website that provides up-to-date information about MBA career opportunities and different college programs. I asked her if she could discuss the findings of the recent Kenexa study that outlines the ways in which human resource departments are out of touch with their employees and this will have a detrimental effect on companies until the problem can be corrected. The following is her guest post. 

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Managing an effective human resources department is usually a factor of two interrelated elements: professionals who understand the newest HR trends and regulations, and who know how to read and engage with the employees under their care. Too often, companies lean primarily on the first requirement, assuming that engagement and good communication will just come with time or, in some cases, will simply be intuitive.

However, as a new study from HR consulting and recruiting service Kenexa reveals, this strategy is not working. More HR professionals than ever before are out of touch with their company’s workforce, the study said. More and more HR teams are looking to bridge this growing gap, and a handful of startups have emerged devoted solely to HR improvement.

A Problem Around the Water Cooler

The Kenexa report, titled “Employee Attitudes and Engagement,” compiled results from surveys the consulting firm conducted in the first part of 2012. Researchers asked a fixed set of questions to employees, then posed those same queries to HR departments. The results, Kenexa said, were “disconcerting.”

For instance, only 34% of polled employees reported that they felt “engaged” with their jobs and companies. HR professionals anticipated much more generosity when they put that number at a nearly doubled 69 percent. Similarly, only 38 percent of employees said they would recommend their company to a friend, which was far lower than the whopping 81 percent HR executives projected. This pattern held true across the board, whether detailing benefits evaluation, feelings about pay grade fairness, or overall job satisfaction and anticipated job retention.

A Forbes magazine article summarizing the report called the findings “a damn shame,” and said that the disconnect may be emblematic of a larger problem in modern industry. “In an ideal world HR should be your team that is completely focused on maximizing talent,” the article said. “They can only maximize talent if they understand the current situation.”

Part of the problem may be related to the increasingly diverse workloads HR personnel handle. They process benefits paperwork and negotiate new hire packages; they watch market trends and handle personnel disputes. “To deliver more value, the human resources function needs to spend more time accelerating operational improvement and less time on its traditional administrative and compliance activities,” Brad Power, a veteran Human Resources consultant, wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post. Revamping goals and focus can be somewhat daunting, however, which is where an emerging sector of next-generation HR consultants and start-up companies come in.

Opportunities & Solutions

Expensify, a San Francisco-based startup, is one example. It offers a computer platform for HR departments that streamlines employee expenses, receipts, and reports. The goal is to save personnel from sorting through stacks of paperwork—ideally so they can spend more time actually getting to know their employees and identifying more pressing personnel issues.

TribeHR also provides a template for financial tracking as a part of a much larger HR program “revamp package.” Enrolled companies can manage all HR functions from one common docket: tracking new hires and recruitment efforts, monitoring employee progress, and keeping track of calendars is all part of the deal.

When it comes specifically to improving company-employee communication and interaction, Rypple, also based in San Francisco, may offer a good solution. The Rypple program works something like an internal social network for companies. It gives managers, staff, and executive leaders a place to share and collaborate, as well as give feedback.

Effective HR management is as much about knowledge as it is about adaptability. Understanding the technical processes is an important piece, but the puzzle is incomplete without strong channels of communication and an accurate read of corporate culture and sentiment. With the right direction, technology, and advice, even the most out-of-touch organizations can come back on course—provided, of course, they first recognize the problem.

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This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. 

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