Human Resources: a powerful Ally of the employees or the business?

human resources, hr, people & culture, employees, employee engagement, employee satisfaction, business relationship, human capital, performance management

“Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.”
― Ken Robinson

I recently had a morning discussion with a colleague of mine from a different department about an interesting topic which definitely raises some eyebrows when stating an opinion about it or elaborating a certain point of view. Human Resources in general is stigmatized in a negative light when the context is about the greater good of the employees in a company but rarely is it that simple. Thorough complexity is almost always associated with any kind of dealing with people because of obvious reasons but to add fuel to the fire, the Human Resources department also has to think about the business and its progress/status in the company. This colleague of mine was convinced that the HR is always an ally to the company first and then the employee second. As mentioned before, the context and complexity have to be incorporated when discussing these topics so nothing is mistakenly understood and while his point of view sheds a negative connotation at first, with a strict elaboration, he’s right but also wrong. The direct answer to this might not be just one but several so let’s try and break it down.

Really an ally of the business first?

Let’s attack the generic thought of this topic and specify what exact negativity stems from it. Yes, of course the HR department has its eyes on the business because the core responsibility of any Human Resources department is the most effective utility of human capital in order to grow business. It is that simple. The issue here is that most people tend to think that, while growing business is very important, somehow the „human capital“ part isn’t important. These two components aren’t mutually exclusive and on the contrary, you can’t have a successful one without the other. The business can’t grow if the HR department doesn’t make sure that the qualifications in the human capital component are satisfied in all areas which means that the development of the employees and their retention is, as or if not more, important than the business itself. Remember, there is no business without human resources (pun intended). My answer to the headline question would be that the Human Resources is an ally of both the business and its employees.

human resources, hr, people & culture, employees, employee engagement, employee satisfaction, business relationship, human capital, performance management
A business is nothing without people

Employees first or a pragmatic win-win for business and employees?

Now that being said, my colleague’s reasoning was that whenever HR lets any employee go without their own volition, it automatically means there was no measure against that decision. This is why most people don’t know how working in HR can sometimes be very hard because making balanced decisions, mixed with reasoning and emotion to appease both the needs of a business and every human step for that employee to counter exit strategy decision, is sometimes almost impossible and yet very much needed. This is assuming that the HR in question works diligently with utmost ethics and professionalism. If we operate by proper HR process, what my colleague doesn’t know is that the employee in question was offered any kind of PIP (performance improvement process), any kind of constructive feedback from the line manager or HR, a technical/vertical change in contract role, a change in responsibility with salary corrections, etc. Because we have to remember; if there was any kind of exit strategy for an employee, it’s because that employee is somehow hurting the business; usually productivity, be it just the work performance, bad relationship with colleagues or any other factor. If each and every other possibility for a continuous working relationship is extinguished then HR is forced to react in a, what most people think and say, „negative“ light.

human resources, hr, people & culture, employees, employee engagement, employee satisfaction, business relationship, human capital, performance management
HR has to give their all for employee improvement

A cop out argument?

My colleague understood what I way saying but he was still adamant to emotion, staying by the opinion that the company has to do everything in their power to not strip that employee of their livelihood, regardless of whether that employee contributes enough to overall business or not and never mind if the employee was given a chance to improve. A company and its employees are basically a symbiosis, an organism which can’t work with those components separately. If that component isn’t compatible and every remedy was tried, it’s time to find a different organism, so to speak. It may sound harsh, but the balance and mutual needs from the two need to be met; which is adequate productivity from the employee and a secure fund from the company – what everything boils down to. To ease this way of looking at things to a person not well-versed in HR activities, I told my colleague that a good HR or company give their best to send off an employee with a bad productivity but with a good attitude; in terms of giving them a higher notice period, a good severance package, a good recommendation to prospect companies, etc.


To summarize the headline question and an already provided answer, the good Human Resources departments are allies of both the business and the employees because they can’t function without the absolute best effect from each other. A business will never be successful if the employees don’t exhibit proper performance or work results and employees wouldn’t work in general if businesses weren’t there fueling the economy. An exit strategy is never an easy decision for any HR department if they perform their duties on the level but it’s what we must do at the end of the day to keep the business running.

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