Companies should expect far more from their HR departments than just completing paperwork for new employees and processing payroll. Today's HR department is considered a strategic business partner, a champion for change and an advocate for both the company and its employees. In those roles, the company anticipates the HR department to be an integral and actively involved business unit that develops workforce strategy that meets the needs of the organization.


The expectation is that the company's leadership will receive strategic direction from its HR leadership. Specifically, the HR department can provide direction related to employment trends and how best to maintain a highly skilled workforce. In addition, the HR department provides strategic direction on how to prepare current employees for leadership roles through well-thought-out succession planning. The direction an organization receives from its HR department should also focus on the company workforce needs in view of trends such as projected shortages or labor surplus. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Nurses Association predict shortages among registered nurses between 2010 and 2020. Hospital administrators can expect direction from HR leadership on how to ensure their facilities remain adequately staffed in light of the nursing shortages.


HR staff members are depended on to be accessible to employees, helpful in answering their questions about compensation, benefits, coordinating leaves of absence and responding to workplace complaints. A number of HR specialists may be required for a sizable workforce. Employee relations specialists have special expertise in handling employee concerns. They are trained to investigate and resolve complaints about a variety of issues, from employee-supervisor conflicts to incidents of workplace harassment. This HR activity is referred to as the customer service responsibility of HR -- serving the needs of internal customers, which are the company's employees.


Companies should expect the HR department to ensure the organization adheres to labor and employment laws. In addition, if the company is bound by reporting obligations such as those required under Executive Order 11246 for affirmative action programs, the HR department ensures that the U.S. Department of Labor receives information to which the agency is entitled regarding wages, applicant flow data and other employment actions. Safety is another compliance area that companies expect their HR departments to monitor. Record keeping and reporting obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 are within the purview of the HR department.


HR can't be solely responsible for maintaining high employee engagement levels; however, the HR department generally is expected to identify employee dissatisfaction, morale and general discontent among workers. In addition, the company's expectations for HR are to identify issues, create ways to address the issues and devise action plans or other reactive measures to improve employee engagement. The HR department also develops proactive strategy for sustaining employee engagement. For example, it's the HR department that administers and analyses employee opinion surveys and employee focus groups. No other department is likely to be responsible for those activities.


The company should reasonably expect the HR department to assume responsibility for training and professional development. In large organizations, HR departments have training specialists on staff who are experts at conducting needs assessments and designing training components that meet the skills training needs of the current workforce, provide orientation for new employees and create professional development opportunities for employees ready for career advancement.