It's time for HR to challenge the status quo

Over a 24 months like no other, HR practitioners have become a sought-after resource for panicked business leaders on the hunt for clarity and alignment. And partly as a result of this, HR has evolved quite dramatically over the past few years from being perceived as merely responsible for employee administrative issues, to becoming a strategic partner to the business. And rightly so.

That said, HR still gets a bit of a bad rep, doesn’t it? Often our profession can be seen as a bad brand and one to keep quiet at a dinner party for fear of ‘human remains’ stories about how HR had let an individual down. Sound familiar? If so, I urge you to read on. 

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While the role of HR in organisations is long established, the collective understanding of our purpose varies according to whom you ask. Employees, managers and even HR professionals will all give different answers.  

This lack of clarity on what the role of HR actually is can cause quite an issue. For instance, many might perceive HR to be an extension of the leadership team, while others see it as being an employee advocate. And certainly, many HR professionals, both internal and external, often attempt to be both. But I find this usually comes with limited success, sadly.

The phrase ‘you can’t be all things to all people’ comes to mind here. Our legal colleagues would see this as a firm conflict of interest and support one or the other.

And at the end of the day there really is only one person who pays our bills and who we subsequently have to answer to. So, is it any wonder that the employee often feels like they are lacking an impartial advisor? And what can we do differently to change this?

The answer to this lies in the growing HR independent community. There are an increasing number of external HR professionals, working independently, many of whom having made the move from an in-house HR role for numerous reasons – though more often than not for a better work/life balance. 

These individuals, not only understand the culture and challenges of SMEs – which are a key component of our economic recovery – but they also have many years of HR expertise under their belts. 

So, how can those working independently in HR be instrumental?

Well, imagine a world where the organisation and its managers were represented by an in-house HR team, while the interests of those working in the organisation were represented by an external HR company which had similar powers to the male-dominated trade unions of yesteryear.

A collaboration of HR professionals working together to create better working lives for employees and thriving businesses can only be a good thing – and frankly I believe it is something we should have done a long time ago. 

Currently, in accordance with the Employment Rights Act 1996, independent HR consultants are permitted to represent individuals at Employment Tribunal if they are registered and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). 

However, they are barred from supporting individuals in the workplace and signing settlement agreements despite the fact that providing this service requires the same skills, experience and in-depth knowledge of the law as representing an individual at a tribunal. 

I believe the time is now right to request an amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996. An amendment to allow independent HR consultants to obtain the same rights as trade union officials to represent employees in the workplace and advise on and sign off settlement agreements.

And I am not alone in this. Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD among others, supports this proposal and can see the many
benefits too.

So, I ask you. Are you ready to support real change and challenge the status quo for the better? 


Ruth Cornish is founder and director of Amelore and co-founder of HR Independents, the UK body for independent HR and people professionals


This piece was first published in November/December 2021 issue of HR magazine. Subscribe today to have all our latest issue of HR magazine delivered right to your desk.