Overworked HR teams face burnout unless line managers help ease burden

The economic crisis threatens to overload already stretched HR departments if they don’t train line managers to ease the burden, an expert has warned.

Penny de Valk, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership and Management, said many HR professionals were struggling with their ever-expanding workloads.

“HR [chiefs] are under pressure to get more from less within their department, and now they’re being asked to reduce headcount and ensure there’s no risk to business,” de Valk told Personnel Today.

“But a rise in employment tribunals will cause extra distractions for HR professionals, and they will struggle to perform at the top of their game in all areas.”

Recent statistics from the CBI showed the number of employment tribunal claims climbed sharply from 132,600 in 2006-07 to 189,300 in 2007-08. Further increases have been predicted as employers lay off staff because of the worsening economy.

De Valk said it was the responsibility of HR departments to ensure line managers were properly trained to help them deal with extra work.

Helen Chamberlain, HR director for telecommunications giant Orange Business Services, said she makes line managers of employees bringing claims experience the entire tribunal process.

“A line manager needs to understand what they’ve had an involvement in, because often something’s gone wrong fundamentally – either a process or an error in judgement,” she said.

“Often there is some issue along the line, and for a line manager to see the amount of hours spent on notes, statements, bundles, and to sit there and squirm on the seat when they’re being cross-examined, it absolutely should be a fundamental part of their training,” she said.

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