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Annie Hayes

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Vox Pop: Does increased legislation justify the existence of the HR function?

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HRZone tested the HR water by asking key spokespeople including Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary and Mary Canavan, HR Director at the British Library their views on whether the increased burden of employment law justifies the existence of the HR function; scroll below to see how they and others reacted!


The unions’ view
Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary
Brendan Barber
Looking after your staff should not simply be about legislation. The justification of the HR function is that treating staff well adds value to a company or organisation; unfortunately not enough employers take this attitude. The fact that too many outfits do not treat their staff as their strongest asset is the reason we need employment legislation. If staff were paid and protected well, and trusted, consulted and treated fairly the law wouldn’t have to be involved.

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The professional’s view:
Duncan Brown, Assistant Director-General CIPD

The HR function originally came into existence because of a lack of adequate welfare protection for employees at work, and so the function has always been related to and affected by employment legislation. The increase in the amount of this legislation under this Government helps to explain the growth in the numbers employed in the function and its influence in recent years, as revealed in our research study, HR, where we are, where we’re heading.

Yet even from its earliest days the function has always been about a lot more than this. You cannot legislate a happy, motivated, skilled, developing and productive workforce into existence and while contemporary HR strategies recognise the influence of employment legislation, this is not their primary driver.

Our research shows that HR directors and functions are developing policies and practices which help secure people’s discretionary commitment to achieving the goals of the organisation they work for, commitment which is the most critical ingredient in performance in today’s knowledge and service driven economy. This is how HR functions are really adding value to employers, rather than just keeping them out of ET’s.

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The HR Director’s view:
Mary Canavan, HR Director at the British Library

HR performs a critical role in contributing to the business success of an organisation.

Developing HR strategies which attract, develop and retain talented people, provide flexible employment models and build sustainable organisational capacity are the focus for a strategic HR function. Implementing employment legislation is only a part of this.

A more appropriate view is that increased legislation justifies the existence of the legal profession rather than the HR function.

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The academic’s view:
Dr Stephen Hardy, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Manchester

Increased legislation has meant that HR is now core to the business rather than peripheral. Since successful businesses have realised that compliance is good people management and as psychological gurus constantly inform us, ‘good people management means business success’.

Yet from the lawyer’s perspective, compliance is absolute, as the legal consequences could be disastrous for the business. Manifest poor management publicly reprimanded in litigation is not the image good businesses wish to project.

Although, businesses dislike lining lawyer’s pockets – having good HR handling complex legislation is a better way forward.

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The Editor’s view
Annie Hayes, HRZone Editor
Annie Ward
Interpreting the law and implementing it in practice is certainly a role that often falls upon HR’s shoulders and as the burden increases it is only natural that this aspect of the job becomes increasingly time-consuming.

Many organisations, will and already do outsource some of the more complex aspects of managing employment law and in these businesses the HR function still exists but in a different capacity – a strategic and in an ideal world a business partner role.

Employment law, is all pervading, and has an impact on the entire framework of good people management, escaping it therefore is near impossible even where it is outsourced to experts but to say it ‘justifies’ the existence of the HR function is perhaps doing HR a dis-service and when the function gets to grips with the concepts of human capital management it will be able to more clearly show its very real worth in areas outside of compliance that contribute most effectively towards boosting the bottom line.

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Annie Hayes

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