Last week I had the honor of hosting a thought leadership webinar on the topic, “Empowering People Leaders to Effectively Manage Employee Issues.” The webinar featured a panel of employee relations (ER) experts that included:
- Michael Rubino, VP of Customer Success, HR Acuity
- Kelly Rew-Porter, Chief People Officer, Reformation
- Stacey Lucariello, Leader of Talent and Performance Management, Konica Minolta
- JT Mitchell, Senior Director, Global Employee Relations, Thermo Fisher Scientific
Despite the differences in the panelists’ organizations, industries and roles, one recurring theme throughout our discussion was “listening.” In case you missed it, here are a few of the insights I learned from our thoughtful panelists.
Great employee relations starts with managers
Especially in a decentralized environment where there aren’t a lot of HR resources, managers often serve as the “first responder” for employee issues. People managers can easily handle issues like performance and attendance with “rinse and repeatable” policies, tools and templates. Of course, this only works if managers know what the policies are and what to do when they aren’t followed, as well as the crucial role they play throughout the process. Once policies, processes and roles are outlined and shared, managers will understand these expectations are a normal part of their work.
If a manager runs into a trickier-than-usual situation, they can feel comfortable understanding that their role at that point is simply to listen, take good notes and let the employee know they’ll get back to them. Listening without judgement is crucial, especially during these stressful times when we’re still dealing with exhaustion from the pandemic, social justice issues and the Great Resignation (since vacant roles on teams often leave extra work for those who remain). They also need to know that ER partners are there to provide support and coaching. Complex cases always go to ER, but ER should equip managers with the tools they need to handle day-to-day issues.
Knowing when to reach out for ER support
In organizations with a distinct ER function or dedicated department, HR and line managers need to understand the value ER brings to the table. ER helps managers see that each interaction offers them an opportunity to build their leadership capabilities. ER provides resources to help them understand underlying issues and ways to resolve them by reinforcing trust, transparency and the organization culture.
ER can also ensure managers and employees have a shared understanding of organization values, to serve as a reminder of basic expectations for behaviors at work. This is an important foundation for people managers, along with recognizing that the culture they create on their own teams impacts whether their team members will feel comfortable raising issues at all.
Becoming a more strategic ER team
Empowering managers in this way creates space for the ER team to address its big-picture goals for the organization. Just as businesses do strategic planning each year, ER needs to do strategic planning and use insights to educate business leaders, prevent potential risks and take proactive steps to develop the necessary culture. The key is having access to data, which allows ER to take necessary actions – grounded in that data and its implications for the organization.
For example, when the ER team recognizes that the same issues are popping up on a regular basis, this can indicate a potential training need. However, it’s always best to pause and reflect on whether one of the “Three Ps” is the issue: Is it a People issue that does indeed require additional training, a Process issue that needs to be fixed or solved, or a Purpose issue, where there is a disconnect with how employees are relating to the organization’s mission and purpose?
We hire people managers because they are talented and capable, and we expect them to solve business problems. We similarly need to expect them to build trust on their teams, and we can equip them with the skills to do just that. HR Acuity functionality prompts managers to think about the best ways to handle any given situation so they can develop these skills in real-time. Handling employee relations issues consistently and adeptly can also drive improvements in diversity and inclusion efforts by removing bias, creating a safe and trusting workplace for our employees. Empowering managers in this way helps them weave real-life, on-the-job learning into their day-to-day operations.
All teams make mistakes along the journey, but we recognize that the world of employee relations is constantly evolving. If we approach ER by listening to our managers and to our employees as partners on this journey, the entire organization will benefit.
You can listen to the entire webinar recording here.