Are Human Resources Services Available and Is the Advice and Assistance Worthwhile?

Do federal employees have access to human resources advice and assistance? If they do have access, are they satisfied with the quality and professionalism of the advice? Here is how readers responded to a recent survey on the federal human resources service available to them.

We ran a column some time ago entitled "Here’s a Quarter. (Call Someone Who Cares)". The topic for the column was the changes occurring in what used to be called "personnel offices" which later evolved into "human resources."

I realize that the current term preferred by some agencies is "human capital." It is a personal foible; I find the term grating, insulting and a dumb idea. It conjures up an image of treating people as an object—equivalent to a dollar bill or a cow—and should be avoided by a profession that is supposed to care about people.

What are the results of the changes that are occurring in human resources? Do federal employees have access to human resources (HR) services? Are they satisfied with the services that they receive from their HR offices?

In a recent survey of FedSmith readers, 88% of those responding said they do have access to HR advice and assistance, about 4% were not sure and about 8% said they do not have access to this service.

Rating the Quality of Federal HR Services

Moreover, 89% of those responding sought advice from their HR office in the past 18 months.

Unfortunately, the opinion of those who sought and receive HR service was not favorable. Here is how readers rated the HR service that they received:

Excellent: 11.4%

Very Good: 11.4%

Adequate: 18%

Poor: 30.1%

Unacceptable: 29.1%

In effect, about 59% of those who sought and received human resources advice and assistance found the service to be poor or unacceptable.

Rating of HR Services by HR Professionals

Out or curiosity, we took a look at the responses of those readers who identified themselves as a human resources professional. Here is how they rated the service they received:

Excellent: 24.9%

Very Good: 25.3%

Adequate: 25.3%

Poor: 15.5%

Unacceptable: 9%

The results are, not surprisingly, higher in rating the service received than the ratings from all survey participants. But, in plain English, human resources professionals, most of whom presumably work in or around a human resources office in government, say that 24% of the time the advice and assistance they receive is poor or unacceptable.

This will not inspire confidence in the rest of the federal workforce that is dependent upon these offices to help them make decisions that could impact their career or their future retirement.

In fact, when we took out the responses from those who identified themselves as a human resources professional, here are the results:

Excellent: 5.8%

Very Good: 6.1%

Adequate: 15.1%

Poor: 35.7%

Unacceptable: 37.3%

By any standard, when about 3/4 of people say the advice and assistance was poor or unacceptable, the organization is not doing a good job.

What Is the Problem?

The responses from readers provide more insight into the problem. There is little consistency; people believe they are treated rudely by those providing the advice; lack of knowledge or expertise; or just not receiving a response to a request. Here are some of the more typical responses sent in by readers:

  • different answers from different employees, one continuous contradiction.
  • Unprofessional at the least total lack of knowledge and unable to support basis for information.
  • Calling the local HR ofc is a farce. You ask them what job is out on the web and they give one person one answer, another person another answer, and NOTHING is consistent.
  • After a major mistake on their part which I had to bring to their attention – it took emails to 4 different personnel officers and a supervisor to respond. On a subsequent request, I still have not received a response for information forwarded in August. I hear the same problem from peers across the country. We work for the Small Business Administration.
  • Decentralized requirements, centralized control over processes with no local authority given. Why do we have HR "Reps" in the agency without the authority to make modifications to the individual’s HR record.
  • "I don’t know." "You are the first one ever ask that" "He’s not here now"
  • If my department does something unacceptable in HR’s eyes, we never hear the end of it, but if they make a mistake, we never hear a peep out of them.
  • Long time delays. No published contact list. Ended up getting the contact number from a contractor.
  • Took too long to get my estimate because they tell me they are too busy.
  • Several of the applications were missing documents submitted by the applicants but not copied and forwarded to the hiring department, e.g. resumes, the KSA’s (questions required for best qualified rating), etc.
  • There is no seasoned or experienced HR people in our HR department. They are all GS5 or GS& upward mobility people. There is a lot to be said for experience in this field and with out the experience you have a lot of misinformation!!!!
  • We are the lgst. VA in the nation. we are located in WLA and GOOD LUCK with the retirement person, there is only ONE lady working because she doesn’t want any help so emps have to wait 2-3 months to have retirement paperwork processed!!! She refuses to train anyone because she alone wants to be in charge. The HR Chief won’t step in and assign another staff to work on retirement paperwork.
  • You must do all HR research online, the local CPO has been all but gutted and people with little to no HR experience are filling those positions.
  • They require us to email them, which I did, but then they never bothered to answer my question.
    They think we need to serve them, when they are in a support position and are part of the overhead.
  • Depends completely on the individual. Generally get ZERO response from my HR representative, so I email others to get responses. HR has a bad reputation within USDA.
  • There is no Human in HR anymore. Take a number and they will get back to you at their convenience, if that ever happens, I’m still waiting!
  • Untimely, not helpful, discourteous, need I say more? Why bother them.

Here Are the Favorable Comments

In all of our surveys, there are always differences of opinion. In searching through a few hundred written comments, we did find positive comments. Here are some of them:

  • Very knowledgeable
  • Adequate most of the time, but poor in other instances.
  • Customer service oriented – even though the Air Force is centralized, the customer service was personalized.
  • The HR person answered right away
  • Our HRO is very helpful. I process a limited number of personnel actions via DCPDS. HRO is my buffer to the HRSC.
  • They assisted me with my issues and resolved them as best as they could be resolved with the utmost professionalism.
  • I was pleasantly surprised. I had dealt with them in the past and it was a less than adequate experience. However, I have noticed a lot better quality in service within the last six months.

In summary, it is apparent that readers are not satisfied with the advice and assistance of human resources services provided to employees and retirees. We are not aware of a movement to try and create more human resources offices in government. In fact, the trend is likely to be more dependent on computers and database systems.

That may not be a bad approach. The more difficult problem identified by readers is the lack of professionalism and lack of knowledge of those who are employed to provide advice and assistance.

Our thanks to everyone who took the time to answer the questions in our recent survey and a special thanks to those who sent in their written comments.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47