Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

It’s time to bite the bullet and rebrand your HR department for 2021

These articles have been written by the first cohort of the Practice Makes Unperfect programme – a course that helps women find and finesse their public voices. 

By Scarlett Richards, Head of People,  A Million Ads

When I tell people I work in HR, I’m generally greeted with the same reactions, which can be summarised as:  

  • A series of surprised eyerolls
  • A few “ooh I better watch out for you then”s 
  • The odd look of pity, like I’ve pulled the career short straw 

People are often ambiguous about where these attitudes have come from, and attribute them as being “by definition” of HR, the majority not even able to put their gut instincts down to personal experience. 

Unfortunately, HR has baggage. It’s an unpopular department historically viewed as elusive, whose role is to obey senior management and keep a watchful eye on the team. This perception may feel limited but it isn’t totally unfounded… 

I came across an article recently in Fortune Magazine from 2018, entitled “HR Is Not Your Friend”, which describes us as ‘the executor of a liability-avoidance strategy that ticks all the boxes’. Although its argument is based entirely on a stereotype, modern publications like this are ultimately fuelling the negativity still surrounding the space. 

Just last week a friend in HR told me that her colleagues actually made her walk onstage at a conference to the Imperial March theme, amid shouts of “here comes HR!”, reminiscent of the ‘shame’ scene in Game of Thrones. It’s as if viewing HR as the enemy has become fundamental, to the point where it is actively encouraged, in ritual-like fashion. 

These perceptions can be accredited to the style of HR lurking amidst corporate culture and the more rigid centralised HR structures of large corporations. A study by ViewsHub based on 50,000 employee opinions found that tech companies have the least popular HR departments, with the lowest effectiveness score of 2.66 out of 5. The study focuses specifically on how HR is perceived in its ability to lead effective change and whether staff view the department as helpful.

Who even is HR?! This seems to be a consistent theme with many larger tech organisations who adopt a more traditional system; the unseen department, contactable exclusively by email that generally only communicates with staff under unpleasant circumstances. This pits employees and HR against each other, with HR acting as the faceless ‘fun police’ who never deviates from process and only exists to keep the business compliant.

HR has far more influence than this. We hold the power to improve the performance of the entire business through being first and foremost a resource for staff, spearheading the company culture and maintaining an engaged workforce. One study by Forbes found that those with strong and engaging company cultures had, on average, a 682% increase in revenue over an 11 year period, compared to just 166% in those without. 

We need a rebrand. I’d even go as far as suggesting the name itself needs a drastic overhaul. We can do this by bringing the department right to the foreground through: 

  • Giving HR a face
  • Giving HR KPIs with a bigger focus on company culture
  • Giving HR more accountability for employee welfare and engagement
  • Making people aware that HR is there for them to utilise not fear

As we move into 2021, businesses need to grow and maintain inclusive cultures, ensuring their people belong and ultimately feel part of something bigger. So what better time to rebrand – and champion – your HR department? And as for the name change, I’m definitely open to suggestions…