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Developing an Approachable HR Department

See also: Mediation Skills

Human Resources are vital to the running of a business, often acting as the enforcers of company policies and mediating issues such as hiring and firing.

HR departments are the first port of call for an array of in-house issues, for both employers and employees.

Despite the good work they do, HR departments are often regarded in a negative light – perhaps due to the fact that at times they are the bearers of bad news. That said, they can also be the source of comfort and knowledge that employees cling to in times of upheaval.

Therefore, ensuring that your HR department is approachable is vital to the running of your business. Their job is often a thankless one, however helping the team to develop key skills and increase approachability could make a huge difference for everyone involved.

Here are the ten most important areas that HR professionals can develop:

1. Communication

Communication is important in any role, but especially so in HR.

Not only must the department be able to effectively communicate information to the workforce, but they must also be good at listening. Employees feeling like they are being listened to in an open and honest environment will go a long way in creating trust and to encourage employees to use the services offered by HR.

While HR managers mightn’t always be able to act directly off the back of conversations, employees feeling like their concerns or thoughts are valued is instrumental for increased approachability.

See: Active Listening for more on effective listening skills.

2. Knowledge

Being knowledgeable about the business is essential to promote an approachable image.

Staff often look to HR to provide answers and information, therefore being able to answer said questions, or at least being able to follow up and find the answers, is great for creating confidence in the department and encouraging employees to optimise the department’s services.

3. Body Language

It might sound slightly patronising, but smiling and body language really are important.

While nobody is expecting you to have a smile fixed permanently on your face, smiling instantly makes an individual seem more approachable.

Likewise, closed off body language can make an individual seem hostile and unreceptive. Simple things like not folding your arms, or nodding to acknowledge that you are listening, give off a friendlier, more approachable image.

See: Non-Verbal Communication for more information.

4. Keep Calm

Working in Human Resources can involve dealing with tricky situations, from redundancies to disciplinary action, making the ability to keep a cool head crucial.

In situations such as those, tensions and emotions often run high, but a good HR department will remain level-headed and professional, and make well-balanced decisions. Knee-jerk reactions to difficult situations can reverse all the hard work done previously, thus making informed, rational decisions, rather than buckling under pressure, promotes the idea of an approachable and fair HR department.

5. Problem Solving

One of the fundamental parts of Human Resources is problem solving; after all, it’s you who individuals will come to with issues such as disputes.

While it’s a fact that not everybody will get along, it’s your job to find ways to get individuals to at least work alongside each other in a civil manner. Developing key problem solving skills such as learning how to come up with alternatives, evaluating situations and finding ways to implement solutions are all invaluable to HR.

If employees believe you are likely to be able to help and come up with a solution to their problem, then they are more likely to approach you for help.

See our pages on Problem Solving for advice and tips on how to effectively solve problems.

6. Impartiality and Integrity

HR professionals have a duty to remain neutral when faced with issues in the workplace.

While the individual might have a personal opinion on the matter they are faced with, it’s vital to remain impartial and professional. Knowing that individuals will be greeted with an unbiased view and that ‘sides’ won’t be taken reflects well on Human Resources and only serves to further an approachable image.

7. Empathy

Showing empathy should not be seen as a weakness, but rather a strength.

Empathising with someone isn’t to say that you are taking their side or becoming too involved in the issue (after all you are remaining impartial and professional) but it does show that you understand how they are feeling and what they are expressing.

Empathy shows a degree of sensitivity and that you are taking the individual’s concerns seriously, which is exactly what they desire.

Learn more about Empathy.

8. Organisation Skills

Good time management and strong all-round organisation skills are crucial when working in HR.

On a day-to-day basis it’s not unusual to expect to attend several meetings, therefore ensuring you have allowed time for them is essential. From time to time there will also be call for adhoc meetings, and being able to juggle your work load and prioritise effectively will be a great benefit.

For more information see: Organisation Skills and Time Management.

9. Negotiation

Finding a middle ground is at times the only viable resolution to a problem and it can be up to you in HR to find it.

When negotiating between two parties, the key is to find an outcome that they are both satisfied with, a Win-Win.

Negotiating involves having good listening and communication skills, along with problem solving. Individuals may look to you to provide the solution so it’s essential you remain unbiased, clear headed and draw on your negotiation skills.

For help developing your negotiation skills see our pages: Negotiation in Action and Avoiding Misunderstandings in Negotiation.

10. Discretion

Sometimes when there’s a juicy piece of news the first thing most of us want to do is tell somebody; however a huge part of working in HR is knowing how and when to exercise discretion.

From pay rises to disciplinaries, discretion is instrumental to how an HR department works, and individuals won’t want to discuss their private affairs if they feel they cannot trust HR to treat the matter discretely. Beyond discretion making an HR department approachable, a lack of discretion suggests a level of unprofessionalism and could cause serious damage to everybody involved.


In Summary...

Developing an approachable HR department takes hard work and commitment, but it’s certainly achievable.

Human Resources is a department which is often overlooked, however it can be fundamental to the smooth running of a business. Approachable HR professionals have the ability to educate, inform, and more generally help both employees and employers. Through a combination of good communication skills, impartiality and a detailed knowledge of the business, HR professionals have the potential to become a reliable, approachable and integral part of a business.

About the Author


Will Bridges is an HR Consultant at Unum, one of the UK’s leading financial protection insurers.

Unum specialises in providing Income Protection through the workplace, and is committed to helping the UK’s workforce get a back-up plan. Visit them online at: www.unum.co.uk

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