The 5 Attributes of a Great Human Resources Department

Editor’s note: TLNT is continuing an annual tradition by counting down the most popular posts of the year. This is No. 46. Our regular content will return in January.

Lots of talk about bad and ineffective HR.

Some say that the antidote to bad HR is to create some hyper-vigilant, technology-driven department of super nerds who obsess about big data and organizational psychology.

I hate that.

And it’s not realistic.

So I wanted to throw out some ideas for what defines a good Human Resources department.

  1. People get paid on time. Anybody ever worked “under the table” for cash? Food service. Construction. Baby sitting. Landscaping. We know what happens without an accountable payroll department.
  2. Civil and human rights are protected. If your company had its way, safety and security would be negotiable. The free market would determine whether or not you were hurt or harassed at work. And if you didn’t like it, you could quit.
  3. Accountability is enforced. The best HR departments balance compliance with accountability. If management decides it wants to take a risk — whether it’s with your personal safety or with the financial solvency of the company — HR isn’t there to police the decision. But HR is there to make sure that the authorities know who to blame when the poop hits the fan.
  4. There’s something in it for you. Beyond getting paid and making sure you’re not killed in a freak accident, work has to have some meaning. Whether it’s paid holidays or Taco Tuesday, the best HR departments remind management that employees are not robots and need more than food, water and a paycheck.
  5. Fairness has a seat at the table. HR doesn’t guarantee that you will work in a meritocracy; however, fairness should have a fighting chance when HR is around.

I always tell my HR audiences — there is nothing wrong with administrative work if you make a difference in the world and make the trains run on time.

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Paying people. Ensuring safety and security. Demanding accountability. Finding balance in the world. Those are awesome aspects of Human Resources.

Not everyone gets to work with the CEO. Very few people have responsibilities for budgets and headcount. But everyone in HR can be responsible for Taco Tuesday.

That’s a pretty sweet thing.

This was originally published on Laurie Ruettimann’s The Cynical Girl blog.

Laurie Ruettimann is a former human resources leader turned writer, entrepreneur, and speaker. She is also author of Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career.

CNN has recognized Laurie as one of the top five career advisors in the United States, and her work has been featured on NPR, The New YorkerUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal, and Vox. Laurie frequently delivers keynote speeches at business and management events around the world and hosts the popular podcast Punk Rock HR. She lives with her husband and cats in Raleigh, N.C.