Career Clinic

Q: Sometimes I’m written to by the human resources department, at other times it’s the personnel department. They all seem to talk to me about the same things, so why are we wasting resources (which I could put to better use in my social work team) having two support departments?

A: Ah, you’ve just hit a sore point in the human resources world! The quick answer is that it’s actually one department with an identity crisis, or possibly one department at the blunt end of a mission statement.

Life is so much simpler when you know your name. There’s a little bit of envy in me about you social workers and care assistants – and others in the caring profession. With a job title comes an expectation of the scope of the job. In the human resources/personnel sea, we are alone in a boat with a couple of oars!

A colleague reminded me that, when he joined his first local authority, the people he called upon for advice were in the staffing department. Nowadays this might be construed as a group of number crunchers, interested in budgets and costs, and not at all interested in employees as individuals. But back then, that was not the case. My colleague remembers those in staffing as genuinely being on the employees’ side.

I remember doing the job from the “staffing” end, and a large part of it seemed to be about delivering cards and flowers to anyone who was off work. Then we were morphed into personnel departments, with who knows what job descriptions! Not quite the hearts and flowers welfare department, but still people who cared. Then came the human resources label. If there was ever a more robotic name, I am yet to hear it. However, personnel practitioners don’t really care what they are called.

One reason for creating a human resources function was to try to provide more reliable data for management. The obvious thing to target was the biggest cost: sickness absence. But this has often translated into HR people “policing” the workforce, when this should be a part of a manager’s job. Nonetheless, I’d put money on the fact that my profession still cares.

Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant

A: I think you must have too much time on your hands if you’ve given any serious thought to the difference between HR and personnel departments! However, I agree that any money spent on either (or both) would be better spent on looking after the workforce properly (such as by giving them decent pay rises), or on direct services for our clients. Perhaps all HR staff could retrain as social workers and start filling some of our vacancies.

Name and address withheld

A: I called on our HR department for support during a “restructure” at work a few years back and found that, despite the individuals there being understanding, their hands were tied and they were unable to do anything to improve my situation. I think there is a role for HR or personnel experts, but they need proper autonomy within the organisations they work for, ­otherwise they can’t provide employees with any sort of support unless it happens to also fit in with management’s plans!

Name and address withheld

Your questions answered by Community Care readers


Q: I have been bullied within my social work team over the past three years and, although the person who did this to me has now been removed from the team, the situation has left me low in confidence and disillusioned. Do I stay in social work, my team and authority? Or is this a good time to try something new?

We will answer this question in the 12 July issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice: please send to by Wednesday 4 July.

Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comments or questions for consideration by our HR expert and your peers to


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