Gen Z's Perspective of the HR Department

Article originally published by HR Brew on November 2, 2023. Written by Mikaela Cohen.

Gen Z is the youngest generation currently in the workforce, and they’re bringing new perspectives on the world of work. While these perspectives are often fresh, their older colleagues—including those in HR—can sometimes have a hard time adjusting to the generation’s expectations and needs.

HR Brew asked Gen Z workers across various industries the first words that pop into their heads when they hear “HR.” Here were the first five responses:

  • “What did I do wrong?”
  • “I’m being fired”
  • “Compliance training”
  • “Talent acquisition”
  • “The principal’s office at the workplace”

We shared these reactions with Hannah Yardley, chief people and culture officer at software company Achievers, and asked her to share her thoughts on these workers’ perception of HR.

Remote work’s a factor. “In a virtual world, where many of these individuals may have not gone into an office yet…[They] haven’t had a chance to run into HR or see what HR is doing…These [responses] are, rightfully so, some of the major interaction points between workers and HR,” Yardley told HR Brew. “There’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes when it comes to [HR], so as someone further on in their career, what they’ll notice is that HR is involved in a lot more than just these elements.”

It’s not just Gen Z workers. “If you ask anybody, not just Gen Z, they might say exactly the same thing, and that’s a problem that HR has had through its entire life-cycle,” Yardley said. “HR still has a lot of work to do to be seen as a strategic business adviser, and so managers might also believe that these are the areas that HR shows up most commonly…I think we’ve come a long way [in becoming more visible], but this is not a traditional Gen Z response. This is a traditional everybody response.”

It might be their manager’s fault. “If you’re going to HR to determine what you did wrong, then your manager has not had effective communication when it comes to your performance,” Yardley said. “If you’re going to HR for why you’re being fired, to me, that indicates a lack of performance discussion and dialogue between the manager and employee.”

Workers don’t see the people behind HR. “Often, emails come from HR that are…But Maggie [from HR] eats lunch, and Maggie likes to participate in yoga classes that are being held onsite,” Yardley said. “Maggie the HR person is absolutely a human. The same way you would connect with other employees in an office environment, you could humanize [them as] a whole person versus the definition of what [their] job appears to be…A lot of the strategic work that HR does behind the scenes just doesn’t make it into the employee’s purview.”