Lesson 1, Topic 1
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Section 3: Advise & Inform The Organisation By Providing Human Resource Information For The Use Of Others

ryanrori October 18, 2020

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Human Resource data (information) collected and captured (stored) is of no use if it cannot be “used”. In the process of the usage of HR information by senior staff and the employee her/himself, the actual “usage” of HR information is of great importance in that policies and procedures should usually be adhered to.

Information Usage

1 Information Procedures

The HR Officer is a key member of HR and he and his staff are responsible for delivering advice and support in HR matters. In order to accomplish this, an HR “advisory and support team” should be selected and trained to handle queries and give support professionally and effectively. Some fundamental guidelines to HR support are:

  • Accurate: The information should be accurate especially where calculations need to be done from records kept in the employee/personnel file.
  • Appropriate to the needs: The request should be dealt with specifically and additional or unwanted information should be avoided. Example, the employee only wants to know how much leave she/he has left at a specific time (right now, or by December when she/he wants to take leave).
  • According to policy: The HR person should interpret the policies when handling a request. For example, the Policy Rules and Regulations on Leave should be considered when a leave query is handled – especially in a situation where the employee wants to take more days than what is due. Depending on company policy (and years of service, union member or not, etc.) this extra annual leave could be given as unpaid, or with permission from management, taken off the next leave cycle, etc.
  • Confidentiality: No information about an employee may be given to another employee. Staff member A cannot require information about staff member B’s salary or annual leave, for example. HR should not provide the information to anyone other than the employee himself (or his manager).

Some Best Practices – Advise

  • Research the advice and information needs of your recipients in ways which are appropriate and sufficient and take account of your organisational constraints.
  • Provide advice and information at a time and place and in a form and manner appropriate to the needs of your recipients.
  • Provide accurate, current, relevant and sufficient information.
  • Provide advice which is consistent with organisational policy, procedures and constraints.
  • Supported your information and advice with reasoned argument and appropriate evidence.
  • Confirm your recipients’ understanding of the advice and information you have given.
  • Maintain confidentiality according to organisational and legal requirements.
  • Actively seek feedback from recipients to improve the way you provide advice and information.
  • Communicate with people positively, supportively and constructively.


The first step for an HR administrator on the receiving of a staff enquiry is to verify whether or not the request meets the criteria for a valid HR request. Assuming that these criteria have been met, you then have to decide whether:

  • The request is a routine request which you or your department could/should deal with.
  • The request is a routine request which you can forward to a more appropriate HR staff member.
  • The request is one which should be forwarded to another department such as Finance.

Some remarks on HR requests:

  • Requests must be answered. Even if the HR department does not hold the information, HR still has an obligation to inform the applicant.
  • Even if the request isn’t for you, you still have to do something. You can’t simply ignore a request because it asks for information which you do not have. If it relates to another department, forward it to that department as soon as possible.
  • Requests should be handled within certain time limits. There should be guidelines/procedures on how long to deal with a specific enquiry – some enquiries can be immediate while others could take days – for instance to get an authorised signature for a specific document.
  • The HR administrator has the right to ask the enquirer for clarification if he/she does not understand the request, or further information is needed to process it.
  • Try to provide the information in the format requested, unless it is impractical to do so. If you can’t supply the information in the enquirer’s preferred format, you should explain why to them why this is the case. This can be: A copy of the information (in whatever form); a digest or summary of the information; or the right to inspect records containing the information.


The information given should be accurate, relevant, current and sufficient for the user of the information. Relevance feedback is a feature of some information retrieval systems. The idea behind relevance feedback is to take the results that are initially returned from a given query and to use information about whether or not those results are relevant to perform a new query. We can usefully distinguish between three types of feedback: explicit feedback, implicit feedback, and blind or “pseudo” feedback:

  • Explicit feedback: Explicit feedback is obtained from assessors of relevance indicating the relevance of a document retrieved for a query. This type of feedback is defined as explicit only when the assessors (or other users of a system) know that the feedback provided is interpreted as relevant.
  • Implicit feedback: Implicit feedback is inferred from user behaviour, such as noting which documents they do and do not select for viewing, the duration of time spent viewing a document, or page browsing or scrolling actions. The key differences of implicit relevance feedback from that of explicit include:
    • the user is not assessing relevance for the benefit of the IR system, but only satisfying their own needs and
    • the user is not necessarily informed that their behaviour (selected documents) will be used as relevance feedback.
  • Blind feedback: Pseudo relevance feedback, also known as blind relevance feedback, provides a method for automatic local analysis. It automates the manual part of relevance feedback, so that the user gets improved retrieval performance without an extended interaction.

2 Supportive Evidence

As stated, HR can receive numerous requests varying from individual enquiries to more complicated “project” requests. Some typical “FAQs” could be:

  • I need a copy of a document or a form. Whom do I contact?
  • As an employee, what are my vacation benefits?
  • What are my medical benefits?
  • What statutory holidays should casual employees be paid for?
  • Do I, as a casual employee, get paid for the Christmas break?
  • Where can I find information on maternity leave?
  • I’ve moved… How do I inform you of my change of address?
  • I am a new staff member from outside South Africa. I need a permit to work, what do I have to do now?
  • I need a letter of attestation of employment for my mortgage (or any purpose you may need it for), where can I get one?
  • How much leave do I still have?
  • When can I take my accumulated leave and for how long can I take it?
  • Do I qualify for study leave?
  • What are the deductions on my salary?
  • What is my increase?
  • Why is my performance appraisal so low?
  • Please provide me with my career planning within the organisation.
  • When will I hear the response to my promotion application?
  • To whom do I actually report?
  • I want to have a copy of my appointment contract.
  • I have a personal problem, who can help me?
  • How much do I still owe on my personal loan?
  • When is my bonus due?
  • I have a complaint – what are the grievance procedures?
  • Where can I get a copy of our code of conduct?
  • Please inform me of vacancies in the technical section.
  • I do not understand the HR policies and procedures; please assist me.
  • What training is available for me?
  • What medical hospital support do I have on our medical scheme?
  • What are my hours worked in the week of April 4 to 11? etc.

Some typical managerial requests could be:

  • Annual leave (number of days) due to each of my staff.
  • Date of birth for each of my staff.
  • Date of due retirement of a staff member.
  • Previous labour relations information on a specific staff member, e.g. warnings, offences.
  • Attendance registers of staff.
  • Previous performance appraisal documents – especially in the case of evaluating performance or disciplining a staff member.
  • Salaries of various staff members.
  • All kinds of personal information of a specific staff member; home contact details, etc.
  • Performance related information on an employee wanting to be transferred into a department/team, etc.

Policies & Procedures

The advice given should be consistent with the policy, procedures and resource constraints of the HR department. An organisation should have an HR Policy on the handling of staff information. The following is a typical HR policy:

“Human Resources Policy and Procedure.


Number 6.0: Staff Employee Files

Revision 20xx/06/06



ABC Company maintains a human resources file on each staff employee. The company takes appropriate steps to protect the privacy of personal information contained in human resources files. The HR Manager is the official records custodian.


An official human resources file for all staff employees will be retained in Human Resources Office of Records (Records).

Other human resources files may be maintained, as appropriate, in the following locations:

The unit in which the staff employee works,

The Human Resources Office of Unemployment Insurance,

The Human Resources Office of Employee Benefits, and/or

Other appropriate locations.

The types of documents maintained and retained in human resources files may include the following:

Application for Staff Employment,

Resumes or Curriculum Vitae,

Payroll Authorization Records,

Vacation and Temporary Disability Records,

Departmental Staff Information Sheets,

Performance Evaluations,

Corrective Action Records,

Consultation Reports and other related documentation,

Appropriate insurance, retirement and other benefits information,

IRP5 Form,

Employee Separation Sheet, and/or

Diplomas, certificates, training records and related personal accomplishment documentation.

Internal access to the human resources files is subject to the following guidelines:

A staff employee, after verification of the employee’s identity, may review any information pertaining to him/herself contained in the file

A properly identified and authorised representative of a staff employee, with a signed authorization from the employee, may review any information pertaining to the employee contained in the official file. If the authorised representative wishes to make a copy of any information in the employee’s file, a written request for copies shall be addressed to Records. A reasonable charge may be made for copies.

Staff members of Human Resources may be specifically authorised to request, receive and review, for official purposes, a human resources file.

Department heads and other officials may request and review human resources files provided there is an official need for such access.

Nothing in this policy shall be construed to prohibit a supervisor from releasing information/data on an employee to a supervisor in an area where the supervised employee has applied for transfer. Any released information/data shall be from documented facts or shall be as the opinion of the writer/speaker.

External access to human resources files of personally identifiable information or other employment related data/information about an individual without written authorization from the employee/individual shall be directed to Records. That office shall release only the following information:

Past or present employment,

Verification of dates of employment, and/or

Position or title.

An employee is prohibited from releasing any information about another employee to an outside employer or agency without a written authorization from that individual.

Nothing in this policy shall be construed as a prohibition against a letter of recommendation or other employment related information being released upon signed authorization of a present or past employee. This information shall be based on documented facts or shall be stated as the opinion of the writer. A copy of the employee’s authorization should be attached to any document released.

An employee’s working unit, work address, work and home telephone numbers may be made available through the telephone directory information.

Other external access to Human Resources’ files shall be authorised only by the Official Records Custodian and normally only under the following circumstances:

To protect the legal interests of the company.

In response to a law enforcement authority, when appropriate.

Pursuant to a government statute or regulation that specifically requires disclosure of certain information to certain parties.

In response to a lawfully issued administrative summons or judicial order including a search warrant or subpoena. A subpoena or other legal process for the production of the human resources file shall be reviewed by the ABC Office of Legal Counsel prior to release of the information.

In compelling circumstances affecting the immediate health or safety of the individual.

An employee has the right to request correction or amendment of any information contained in the employee’s human resources file.

If the employee is – or should be aware – that this information is in the file, the request shall be made within 60 calendar days from the date the information was put in the file.

If the employee is unaware the information is in the file and discovers the information upon review of the file, the request shall be made within 30 calendar days of the review.

The request shall be submitted in writing to the Manager Human Resources. After review, the Manager Human Resources will determine whether the correction or amendment shall be made and advise the employee accordingly in writing and a copy placed in the employee’s human resources file.

If the employee is not satisfied with the decision, the employee may appeal within 10 working days (Saturdays and Sundays excluded) after receipt of the previous decision in writing to his line manager or the appropriate executive manager whose decision shall be final.



The official records custodian for ABC authorises the appropriate parties to retain the documents or human resources files as stipulated within this policy and pursuant to the company’s record retention policy.

All requests for access to human resources files requiring the authorization of the Official Records Custodian shall be submitted in writing.

Department heads maintaining employee files are responsible for ensuring a proper need or a right to know when allowing review of such files.

3 Responses

Acceptance Of Information

The acceptance and response to an HR inquiry depends largely upon what is requested by an employee and what is specifically needed. The following are examples of typical responses that can be processed.

A Reference Check Request

Responding to a reference check request can be tricky. Fear of reprisal and lawsuits keep many employers from responding at all. These recommendations will help you respond reasonably to reference checking requests while protecting the legitimate interests of your company and your current employees.

First, follow your company’s established policy. Many companies request that managers send written reference requests to Human Resources. If the manager’s reference is positive, however, you can agree to have the manager provide a verbal reference directly to an employer. Anything that is sent in written format should come from Human Resources, or HR staff should review the response for consistency and protection of the best interests of the company. A common reference checking format asks for the former employee’s:

  • job title, and occasionally, job responsibilities,
  • final salary,
  • dates of employment, and
  • a checklist that asks the former employer to rank such characteristics as “teamwork” and “dependability.”

This paperwork is best left to Human Resources – at least, ask the HR staff to review any written response you may be thinking of sending. Do not answer questions that ask you to numerically rate a former employee on any aspect of their work or work characteristics. Numeric ratings are not comparable based on any shared meaning of the definition of the term, nor is the meaning of the numbers on a numeric scale defined on these forms. Secondly, check to ensure the former employee’s signature, authorizing the reference check, is on the paperwork sent by the requesting company. Without the former employee’s signature, no information should be provided.

Response With A Positive Reference

If the manager can, with few reservations, recommend the former employee, in consultation with HR staff the manager may return the call of the inquiring employer. When responding to a phone call, the manager should make certain that the employee’s signature authorizing the reference check is on file with Human Resources before returning the phone call. When a former employee was a good employee, and left your company on good terms (perhaps a spouse relocated and the distance was not commutable), you will likely want to give the former employee assistance to find a new position.

Or, perhaps you have been used as a reference by an employee who reported to you at one time, although not most recently. If you have positive comments to make about the employee, you may respond to the potential employer with the positive comments you can contribute. Answer only the questions that you are comfortable answering if you receive a reference request phone call or document. A manager should only speak to areas of the employee’s skills and experience about which he has direct knowledge. There are several questions a manager should not answer:

Example Question: Predict whether your former employee will be successful in the position for which they are being considered. Good answer: “When the employee worked for me, in her position with my company, she was a strong contributor whose work was appreciated”.

Example Question: What were the employee’s weaknesses? Good answer: “She had no weaknesses worth mentioning that affected her ability to perform her job capably when she worked for me”.

Example Question: “Why did the employee leave the position in which she reported to you? Good Answer: “She sought increased responsibility and to round out her knowledge of our company and products”.

Response with a not positive reference

If the employee left your company under a cloud, whether the employee was a bad fit for their job, a non-contributing employee for other reasons, or unmanageable, refer the request or the form to Human Resources staff for a standard response. Sometimes unusual circumstances surround an employee’s leaving your company. Perhaps an employee was watching pornography on his computer. Another former employee may have threatened violence or committed a violent act whilst employed by your firm. While these former employees will rarely list your company as a reference, be prepared. These calls should be sent to HR staff for the standard response. Maybe talk to a legal advisor before responding to any reference check about a potentially violent employee. If you fail to reveal violent behaviour to a potential employer, and the former employee commits a violent act while in the employ of the new employer, your company can be liable for not revealing this information. So, check with your attorney in any unusual circumstances.


Personnel Records should be used to record personal, emergency information and to document significant events and discussions supervisors have with their employees regarding performance, recognition, training and conduct. Documenting is a supervisor’s responsibility and should not be assigned to clerical personnel. Employees have a right to see and initial notes concerning performance or conduct, and may review the contents of their work folder upon request. Information must be maintained in a secure area that guards against unauthorised access – yet is readily accessible for supervisors to enter notes and other documentation. No information about an employee may be given to another employee; staff member A cannot enquire about information about staff member B’s salary annual leave, for example. HR should not provide the information to anyone other than the employee himself (or his manager).

Only job related information should be compiled in the personnel file. Confidential information could include:

  • Resume/Job Application.
  • Job Performance and Evaluations.
  • Salary Changes.
  • Disciplinary & Grievance Actions.

Generally, and if administratively viable, a separate confidential folder is maintained for information which is to be revealed on a need-to-know basis. Such items could include:

  • Vacation or leave Requests.
  • Pre-employment Evaluations (Subjective items).
  • Reference Checks.
  • Medical records (Doctor releases, health insurance information, physicals, injury reports, w/c claims).
  • Legal Actions.
  • Immigration form necessary for all applicants offered a position – designed to prevent the hiring of “illegal persons”.
  • Payroll Records.


Not all HR information should be placed on the Intranet – namely confidential and sensitive data and information that is seldom requested – but a great deal of HR information can be made available for distribution directly to employees via the Intranet. A key issue is determining the kinds of information to place on the Intranet, and who should be provided access to the data. Information that is sensitive, confidential or restricted by law (e.g. employee medical information) shouldn’t be available electronically. In addition, the accessibility of certain information can be restricted; for example, performance appraisal data should be retrievable only by the employee’s immediate manager. In general, only information needed to answer questions and make decisions about HR-related issues should be placed on the Intranet. Determining what and what not to place on the Intranet must be done by careful analysis of every major HR function and activity.

Recipient Feedback

Human Resources holds the responsibility for the employee satisfaction as it designs and develops the tools to increase and maintain the employee satisfaction level in the organisation. Human Resources is responsible for conducting the regular checks of the employee satisfaction and about the employee emotions as it can predict the trend in the employee satisfaction before the regular employee satisfaction survey is done. Human Resources has to develop the tools to get the immediate feedback of employees on different HR initiatives in the organisation. The top management can ask about the regular feedback from the employees and, when Human Resources has no evidence, the top management tends to trust other managers about the performance of Human Resources. This is extremely dangerous for Human Resources as the HR managers may become the victims of any change in the organisation.

HR has to find a way to quickly research the current status of employees and their emotions, as HR has to be quicker than the managers. The managers always inform the top management about the potential issues in their teams and Human Resources has to be the first department in the organisation to inform the top management about the emotions of the individual employees and the difference in emotions in different teams. HR should co-operate with the top management to provide independent information about the employee emotions to the top management.

The top management usually appreciates the information about the level of employee satisfaction as it is an important aspect in the difficult managerial decisions affecting the whole organisation. Human Resources should develop enough HR tools to find the immediate status of the organisation, as the managers are not the only source of the information about the employee satisfaction. When managers communicate regarding satisfaction issues, they generally do not inform about positive satisfaction but rather tend towards negative dissatisfaction.

Human Resources is the process of designing and implementing formal systems to allow an organisation to make efficient and effective use of human talent to achieve organisational goals. A system requires an effective feedback loop to function correctly, on-going evaluation and refinement. HR is no different. The long-term success of an HR system depends on reliable feedback. HR must be measured. It must use measured feedback to adjust and adapt to the changing needs of an organisation.

Measurement does not always have to be sophisticated. Some simple measures can be very insightful. Many businesses have an employee feedback form on the counter. Websites frequently ask if you would like to provide feedback on your visit. A few HR Departments have a customer feedback form; some send out an e-survey from time to time. More should consider the possibilities and take action to measure their success. Face-to-face feedback can be very helpful.

Example from http://www.pihrablog.wordpress.com


“One HR Director makes the rounds of her Executive Team twice each year. She asks each executive to answer four questions. She assures them that her goal is to learn and to constantly improve HR services and programs. Her questions are:

On a scale of one to five, how would you rate my performance as a member of the Executive Team?

(If they answer five) What do you like about what I am doing? (If they answer less than five) What can I do to earn a five from you?

How do you and the members of your team feel when you leave HR after coming to us for help?

What does HR do that helps you and your team contribute to the strategic goals of our employer?

What does HR do that gets in the way of you and your team contributing to the strategic goals of our company?

She collects information from all Executive Team members. She summarises the feedback and makes a presentation to the Executive Team and the HR team. She assumes responsibility for action items to make necessary adjustments and improvements. Most of her Executive Team counterparts have followed her lead and modified the questions for their own departments.”


Relationship Between Human Resources Management & Human Resources Information System

Strategic HRM & HRIS

For organisations to become more competitive HR managers must work faster, be more accurate, and more productive. HRIS has therefore become a critical tool for integrating HR information into the organisation’s business strategy and for demonstrating the positive contribution that HR can make to the bottom line through the more effective and efficient management of the organisation’s human resources. The critical priority for a successful HRIS is to ensure that it is aligned with the organisation’s strategic business and HRM objectives. Thus, developing clear and precise corporate and HRM objectives is essential before any HRIS technology is introduced. HRIS, if used correctly, can provide a powerful competitive edge.

HRIS is much more than a computerised record of employee information. It is an integrated approach to acquiring, storing, analysing and controlling the flow of HR information throughout an organisation. It provides the necessary data for the planning of activities such as forecasting, succession planning and career planning and development. The major benefit of HRIS is the accurate and timely access to diverse data that it provides to the HR manager and top management.

Payroll versus HRIS

The issue of HR versus payroll systems is an on-going controversy. One school of thought is that they should be integrated to create and maintain a ‘complete’ system and to prevent unnecessary duplication of effort (because much of the information kept in HRIS is replicated in payroll systems). The second viewpoint is that payroll and HR are separate activities and should be treated as such. A payroll system is seen as essentially an accounting function that processes a large number of transactions, while an HRIS is used for HR planning and decision making.

Typical HRIS Data Elements

HRIS is simply database management. This is defined as the ‘systematic approach to storing, updating and retrieving information stored as data items, usually in the form of records in a file by which many users, on even many more remote installations, will use common databases.’ The use of HRIS can lead to dramatic improvements in such things as the recruitment and tracking of job applicants, processing of HR transactions (for example, pay increases) HR planning, and knowledge management.

Uses Of Human Resource Information Systems

An organisation’s culture and HR philosophies and practices will influence the choice and design of its HRIS. Organisations introducing an HRIS need to consider:

Flexibility of HRIS – Flexibility is an important feature in a HRIS. A key element to the system’s success and future value is the ability to use data in ways may not have been originally thought of when introducing the system.

Confidentiality of HRIS – HR data is typically confidential and sensitive. A key concern with HRIS is the potential for the invasion (and abuse) of employee privacy by both authorised and unauthorised personnel. It is important to thoroughly explore questions about user access, data accuracy, data disclosure, employee rights of inspection and security.

Legal and Management Concerns – Organisations today must be alert to the risk of litigation and abuse resulting from employee use of email and the internet.

Computerising The HR Department – The Decision Making Process

The easiest way to justify the set-up costs of an HRIS is to highlight the rand savings resulting from more effective management of personnel records and compensation and benefits administration. Increasing legislative demands such as the requirements of employment equity (EE) and workers’ compensation legislation can be very effectively handled within the HRIS. Different HRIS users (i.e. operational, middle, senior managers) will have different requirements from the system.

Types Of Computer-based HR Systems

Three options exist when an organisation commits to introducing a HRIS.

  • Design an in-house system using either internal or external resources, or a combination of both.
  • Buy a system ‘off-the-shelf ’ and commence operation.
  • Buy a system as above but work with the vendor to modify it to better satisfy the organisation’s requirements.


Outsourcing involves a company contracting out some (or all) of its HRIS activities to an information technology specialist. Companies are attracted to outsourcing HRIS because of lower costs, lack of understanding of the new technology, past problems with HRIS, simplicity and convenience. However, outsourcing HRIS poses risks for the HR manager — for example, lack of flexibility, expense, loss of control (and ownership) of data and time sensitivity for retrieval of required data.

Resolution Of Key Issues

When choosing an HRIS the HR manager should:

  • Have a clear view of the HRM function
  • Beware of the ‘bells and whistles’ trap
  • Know whether they want a Payroll or HRI system
  • Know the jargon
  • Use the ‘show me’ test
  • Know what data and reports they will want to extract
  • Know when to call for help
  • Seek integration of the computer, people, policies/procedures and information flow

Relationship With The Information Technology Department

IT specialists and HR professionals should cooperate to achieve the organisation’s strategic business objectives. Implementing an effective HRIS requires a strong partnership not only with the IT department but with other departments as well (for example, the HR department depends on the accounting department to record labour expenditure and leave liabilities in the organisation’s general ledger). Consequently, the HR department must be outwardly (not just inwardly) focused if it is to receive the support it needs. This means that the HRIS should generate reports which help line managers to do their job.

HRM & The Internet

HR managers are going online with the internet to recruit personnel, conduct research, access electronic databases, send email, network, advertise and undertake corporate promotion. Some proactive HR managers, for example, use the internet (and intranets) to post such HR-oriented information as company mission statements, company history, the company as an employer, HR policies (for example, EE policies) and job openings.


The primary purpose of an HRIS is to assist both the HR manager and line managers with decision making. Therefore, an HRIS must generate information that is accurate, timely and related to the achievement of the organisation’s strategic business objectives. It is important to analyse HRM needs because each organisation will want to use its data in different ways. Some uses of HRIS include the management of personnel records, HR planning, recruitment and selection, performance appraisal, training and development, career planning and development, compensation and benefits, health and safety and industrial relations.

The importance of flexibility in system design and use cannot be ignored. As the HRM function continues to change, so will the needs of the supporting systems. Because a computerised system must reflect these changes, the HR manager must ensure that it can adapt to the organisation’s evolving needs. The process of introducing HRIS applications into an organisation is critical. A basic question is whether the organisation should design its own system, buy an off-the-shelf product, or modify a bought system to suit its own needs. Further issues for the HR manager include ensuring the competence of vendors and their products and determining the role of the IT department in HRIS development.