(MoneyWatch) Think your company's Human Resources department is the enemy, or at best ineffective? It's true that HR people's loyalty must lie with the company, and that some staffers are more dynamic than others. But since HR is also eager to retain good employees, there are also some surprising ways they are often ready to help you, as follows.
Help your spouse find a job. Did you relocate for a new position, and your spouse followed you but hasn't found new employment? Ask your HR rep about positions for him or her, suggests Professor Angelo Kinicki, professor of management at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. "This is important because people often quit because of employment opportunities for a spouse," he says. Your HR staff spent time and money hiring you, and if they're smart they'll go to great lengths to keep you.
Help care for your loved ones. If you're spending time trying to find affordable child-care or elder care, that takes you away from your responsibilities at work, notes Caroline Ceniza-Levine, partner with SixFigureStart, a career consulting firm. "Many companies offer Employee Assistance Program services," says Ceniza-Levine. "These are hotlines staffed by service representatives who can help you navigate different types of wellness and work/life offerings. These offerings may be things you pay for out-of-pocket, but the EAP can help with recommendations and research."
Help you make friends. Bonding with your colleagues is important. Good rapport can allow you to enjoy your week more and help you work more efficiently with your co-workers. Many companies have affinity groups, such as a Hispanic Network or LGBT employee group, and they can help you find individuals to connect with, notes Terri McClements, PricewaterhouseCooper's vice chair of human capital. "Your HR team can tell you if such a group exists within your organization... and if doesn't, start one!" They may also have insider information on sports leagues or other opportunities to socialize the company organizes.
Help you with a conflict early on. Most of the time, HR gets involved when an issue between boss and direct report can't be resolved between the two parties. "HR can help you brainstorm advice [without] escalating an issue to a formal complain," says Ceniza-Levine. The key here is developing a professional friendship with an HR member beforehand, and asking them for their take in a casual way. "This is more effective than always trying to figure things out on your own or waiting till there is an issue that you want to formally bring to HR."