There was a time when human resources departments handled every staffing need at a company, from hiring and firing to administering benefits and determining salaries. But HR's role has begun to change significantly as departments have shrunk at companies across the board. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, the profession's largestassociation, the head count at the average HR department fell from 13 in 2007 to nine in 2008. "HR departments are under pressure like never before," says Steve Miranda, the society's global HR and integration officer.
As much of what was once HR's domain increasingly gets outsourced, human resources is regrouping to help show top management how it can add to the bottom line, says Tony Rucci, formerchief administrative officer at Cardinal Health and a professor at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. Though that may seem like an odd role for a department that doesn't make or sell anything, strong HR departments are now focusing on boosting productivity by helping employees better understand what's expected of them and by showing managers how to be more effective.
2."We're Not Always Your Advocate..."
Employees often turn to HR if they're having problems with a manager, but they don't always come away satisfied. In 2007, Ronica Tabor was interviewing for a better sales job at tool manufacturer Hilti North America when, she says, the interviewer told her that women had to work harder than men to learn to use and sell tools and that she should check with herhusband about applying for the job. Tabor says she turned to HR with "high hopes" they'd keep the interviewer from doing this with others. But Tabor's attorney says she was "made ineligible for promotion for another year" and left the company. She is suing Hilti in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, alleging gender discrimination. A Hilti spokesperson says thecompany's investigation found that Tabor wasn't qualified for the opening and that Hilti doesn't discriminate. "Our HR process did work," says the spokesperson.
Still, employees should realize that HR answers to the company, says Lewis Maltby, director of the National Workrights Institute, an employee-rights organization. "HR is a spear carrier for the boss," he says.
3. "...But We Can Help YourCareer."
Human resources managers do much more than handle employment agreements, medical forms and 401(k) paperwork. They can also have a hand in helping to retain and promote top talent -- i.e., you. J.T. O'Donnell, a former HR manager and the founder of online career-development company Careerealism.com, says it's a good idea to be in touch with someone in the department. Employees often wantto avoid HR, O'Donnell says, "but you really should do the opposite." Molly John credits HR with helping her get promoted to partner at Ernst & Young last year, after she participated in an HR-sponsored program assigning senior partners as mentors to promising junior employees. Without it, she says, "I would not have been promoted so soon."
Seymour Adler, a senior VP with HR management firm AonConsulting, says one way to be recognized for your work is to keep human resources in the loop -- say, by sending your HR manager an occasional e-mail to let her know how you've been contributing to the company's success. That kind of connection could help land you a promotion when positions open up or even keep you off the chopping block during the next round of layoffs.
4. "Want the job?Then You'll Want to Get to Know Us."
With unemployment hovering around 10 percent, HR managers are inundated with responses for every job posting. In fact, some companies are hiring outside firms to post jobs and sort through resumes, presenting only a dozen or so qualified candidates for consideration. How to make the cut? Be sure your resume and cover letter highlight the skills asked for in...