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Will HR have an identity crisis if she embraces an employee champion role?


Stephen Overell wrote an article at and suggested there is.


why can’t human resources professionals stop the navel-gazing? Why is it that HR is so prone to doubting itself, so keen to ponder its life purpose? Like Hamlet moping around the battlements of Elsinore, there is no profession that wrestles with conflicting impulses quite as heroically.

I posted this question in light of one of HR roles advocated by David Ulrich– add value to workers by being an employee champion.

The suggested role is noble but it seems ironic because HR is an extension of management and exists to protect management interests– Certainly there is no employer who will fry himself with his own fat.


Read: HR 3.0 – The Digital, Social and Mobile HR


Is there a conflict of interest if HR decide to become an employee champion? Is balance possible?

Let us consider the insights of the HR gurus who already ventured into this role:

In an article published at employee champions are described to be the “mediator” of employees.

Who is best placed to mediate between senior management and the workforce when relations break down? Stefan Stern investigates a delicate challenge for the HR professional…


But the employee champion aspect of HR does involve thoroughly understanding employee concerns and being prepared to communicate them, however uncomfortable this may be for CEOs and finance directors.

According to one HR software vendor, Auxillium West:

To be employee champions, HR must know the employees well and spend time meeting with and listening to employees. HR must promote communication, which can include employee surveys, employee suggestion programs, all-employee meetings, on-going communication of business status, and any other program that can make employees feel part of the team and dedicated to customer service. This role also includes ensuring that employees who are having problems get a fair hearing.

In the public sector, the Office of the Personnel Management of America (link no longer available), has this to say:

Employee champions listen and respond to employees and find the right balance between demands on employees and resources available to employees. They promote employee contributions. Deliverable/outcome: increasing employee commitment and capability.

University of Virginia applies employee championing as follows:

As employee champion, HR is initiating change, both locally and statewide. We continually advocate to give employees a wider range of options within the workplace, whenever possible. We actively support better pay and better benefits, especially for our lowest-paid employees. We encouraged the state to study the “living wage” issue, but legislation failed to pass in the 1999 General Assembly session. UHR also participates in a statewide initiative to reform the classified compensation plan, which seeks to establish a flexible and modern compensation system for nearly 70,000 classified employees of the Commonwealth.

P & G, a multi-national company, defines employee championing as:

Employee Champions leap tall issues in a single bound! Become an Employee Champion and you’ll work to support, develop, enable, and empower P&G employees — helping to create the optimum environment for productivity and satisfaction.

From the excerpts above, to be an employee champion HR must:

  1. Be the Mediator of employees to top management.
  2. Initiate policies and programs that will make employees feel good.
  3. Promote employee empowerment.
  4. Have fair employee discipline system
  5. Advocate economic benefits

The end result should be improved productivity, increased employee loyalty and commitment.

Another school of thought, however, believed that being an employee champion is in itself a backward role. In a comment posted at entitled “Touchy-feely HR is now a thing of the past”, Karen Dempsey said

How many of you work in HR because you want to help people? Hands up…If you found yourself reaching for the heavens, then it’s time for a rethink as many of the leading thinkers and practitioners in HR are arguing that the model of HR as ’employee champion’ is on its way out.


That’s not to say that employees won’t benefit from the progressive measures you introduce. It’s more than likely they will. It’s just that being the employee champion is no longer an end in itself. The real purpose of HR is to help an organization achieve its goals…. Until HR in the UK realizesthis, it will continue to lag behind its European colleagues in the amount of strategic influence it exerts, and will forever struggle for a seat on the board.

The central thought of the article suggests that HR, if it wants to be a “strategic partner” should shy away from the employee champion role. Since business mindset is focused on survival, winning the competition and improved bottom line, these, in some extent, are prejudicial to the interest of employees.

Let’s go back to the questions we posted earlier.


Is there a conflict of interest if HR pursues an employee champion role? Is balance possible?

The EC role is noble  but at the end of the day, it is still the interest of management that HR should protect.

Though employers will agree on the deliverables or the expected output of being employee champion, they, however, will disagree on the means to achieve it.

Not all employers are willing to empower their employees. In some companies, this is an issue. Likewise, if HR will keep on mediating for and on behalf of employees, some capitalists will be uncomfortable with HR and HR may soon find herself on the way out. There are employers who think employees will never be satisfied with what they have– “give them your hand and they will take your whole arm”.

Balance is only possible if both HR and the employer are in agreement in this paradigm. Otherwise, HR should be ready to protect the interest of the capitalists at all costs or she may opt to look for better management.

Furthermore, being an employee champion is relative, HR may already be advocating for the interests of employees but the employees themselves do not appreciate it.


27 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.

28 Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow”— when you now have it with you.

Prov. 3:27-28 (NIV)

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