Fixer: How do we make administration sexy?

Engaging HR staff who are bogged down in the details can be a job in itself

My business operates a classic Ulrich model based around centres of expertise. It serves the business’s needs and we don’t want to move away from it. But it does mean the core HR operations staff feel they are just doing the ‘boring’ work of answering phones and dealing with queries while others deliver the important HR strategy. They are all desperate to get more out of their roles and do some interesting work, which means turnover in that area is huge and morale is low. How can we make their work more fulfilling?

I don’t like the word ‘admin’, as for many it means unskilled, which it certainly isn’t – it is an essential task in most instances. For that reason, the work done by people in centres of expertise is often misunderstood and certainly undervalued. The increasing popularity of HR specialisms shows us that the skills gained there are hugely important in building future careers and driving HR effectiveness. 

You can’t expect to be taken seriously as an HR department if you can’t get the basics right. But even more so, you can’t demand to be central to your business’s strategy if you don’t understand the detail. How will you help decide bonuses, for example, if you don’t know how people are paid or where value comes from in the company? A solid grounding in HR fundamentals is essential to anyone who aspires to operate at a senior level.

It may be that part of your issue lies in branding. If you use terminology and job titles that make your roles and your department sound unexciting, it’s no surprise employees won’t feel inspired working there. But more importantly, look at your people: have you got individuals in core HR roles who genuinely want to be there and thrive in that environment? Many people enjoy answering the phone and dealing with queries, so make this something you recruit for proactively.

With the staff you’ve already got, the key may be to create opportunities. If they want to become business partners or drive HR strategy, allow them to experience different types of HR work and find out if it suits them. Yes, this involves effort and coordination, but if you don’t tackle development, inevitably there will always be a minority of people who feel they are in a dead-end job.