Industry Insights: 5 Ways HR Can Have a Voice — and a Seat at the Table

Last week, we introduced our new series, Industry Insights. These articles feature practical strategies for professionals in specific industries, written by subject-matter experts in those industries.

HR leaders understand how powerful a people-focused culture is for ensuring the success of an organization. Without a seat at the proverbial leadership table, it can be hard to foster a workplace where people are happy, remain engaged, and want to stay.

Over the past decade, the role of HR has evolved greatly. Department leaders have been able to pull up a “seat at the table” and organizations have thrived because of it. Through this strategic input, the business decisions made by CEOs have typically already been discussed with HR and a comprehensive communications plan has been put in place to inform the employees on how this impacts them.

Just how impactful is HR? Bob Lavigna, public sector senior fellow at UKG, recently moderated a panel discussion comprising experts in various government and higher-education organizations to discuss how they’re raising their voices to help increase employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

These are the five key takeaways from the “Giving HR a Voice: A Perspective from Government and Education Leaders Q&A Panel.”

1. HR is the heartbeat of every workplace. Exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been so much change during the past three years. Organizations had to pivot, adjust, and adapt more than ever before, and leadership had to lean on HR to ensure policies were reflective of what was going to help employees. Through this process, many institutions and businesses have had to start from scratch, reflect on who they are and who they want to become, and where they might need to move toward in the future, as far as employees are concerned.

2. Equality does not mean equity. Employees who have been in the workforce a long time may be used to a certain set of norms and customs and may be comfortable in an environment where everyone is treated the same or have expectations that people should be treated identically. Employers are more aware than ever that that’s not necessarily fair to everyone, because not everyone comes to the table with the same background, the same abilities, and the same knowledge. So, some of the longer-term employees may have this inherent sense that treating everyone the same is fair. Through diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) programs, we can educate our employees on how and why equity is fairer to their peers than equality.

3. Engage your organization’s employees when it comes to setting workplace policy. Your people are your greatest asset. When it comes to creating new rules and regulations, it’s best to involve them in the process. Employee surveys to gauge how different nuances will affect various populations in your workforce can provide guidance to leadership to understand the pulse of the organization and can help employees feel as though their voices are heard. There are many nuances that factor into becoming an employer of choice, but ensuring that it’s a two-way conversation between the C-suite and employees is nonnegotiable when embarking on that pathway.

4. Remember the core meaning of HR. Leadership does not need to be overcomplicated. When making decisions for various groups and departments, it’s important to remember that individuals have basic needs when it comes to the workplace. They want to earn a decent wage, provide something of value, and work for someone who respects them. When things get complicated (as they sometimes do), leaders can go back to these essential aspects and use them to help guide decisions.

5. HR has evolved as a function because leaders have already earned a seat at the table. It’s been a long time coming, but, far and wide, HR leaders are being involved in key decision-making processes. They are looked at as strategic partners who have valuable insights to provide organizations when it comes to what is best for their employees.

While the role of HR has made leaps and bounds from where it started, there is still a lot of opportunity at many organizations to take the role to the next level. Continuing to push for input, striving for employee engagement, and creating an organization that is recognized as an employer of choice will help organizations attract and retain top talent.  

This Q&A was recorded as part of the UKG Winter Academy for the Public Sector. If you found it insightful and would like more thought-provoking content like it, be sure to register for the UKG Summer Camp for Government and Education this August.