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Managing Employee Relations Risk: Moving Beyond the Spreadsheet

Jun 26, 2016
Deb Muller


Open a laptop and load your spreadsheet of choice.

What you’ll see is a compilation of data that is probably 13 columns across and about 37 rows deep. There are tabs to add additional pages, and you can freeze panes for easier scrolling. However, in just looking at a spreadsheet, it becomes clear that it is a tool meant to process limited amounts of data in a linear, one-dimensional way.

While investment in HRIS (human resource information system) technology to manage general day-to-day human resources (HR) functions continues, 45% of employee relations practitioners are still using spreadsheets to track employee-related issues and investigations. Another 27% are not tracking employee-related incidents at all. As the complexity and types of employee relations issues in the workplace continue to rise, human resources will be compelled to source and utilize more sophisticated technologies. It’s Employee Relations 2.0, an evolution that will include moving beyond the spreadsheet as a tool for documenting and tracking employee-related risk.

Here are 5 compelling reasons why HR must move beyond the spreadsheet:

Systems used to track employee-related issues and investigations

A spreadsheet will slowly get wider and longer with each unique data point. For best practice documentation and tracking of employee-related events, there is a significant amount of factual data that must be collected, recorded and analyzed.

An employee-related event should initially be classified as within workplace norms, a deviance from workplace expectations, or a breach of policy that warrants a workplace investigation. Then HR practitioners will collect information such as the date they were notified of an allegation, how they were notified, by whom plus any and all other case-specific information. The amount of data is such that at HR Acuity®, we see clients migrate some of it from a spreadsheet over to a Word document in an attempt to understand and manage the data in a meaningful way.

Multiple documents mean redundant data entry for even the most critical of details such as what type of employee-related event it is (discrimination, bullying, chronic lateness), particulars of any discussions with the employee and any interim or formal actions taken by the employer. Over time, if the employee has multiple violations, each necessitates a separate write-up, and somehow the spreadsheet and Word document combination must aggregate or tie all the data back to the relevant employee.

Reason 2: Employee misconduct may manifest itself in patterns of behavior not evident in a spreadsheet

In 5 Workplace Behaviors That Really Are Bullying, we describe how bullying by a fellow co-worker can often be an accumulation of many small incidents. The serial bully even changes targets. Bullying is an excellent example of workplace misconduct, which requires HR be cognizant of patterns of employee behavior. To correctly identify serial bullying, for example, human resources would need to track a multitude of small incidents, record interactions with many different employees, document discussions with multiple employees and then be able to view that data in a structured way.

Within disparate employee data points, there may be a pattern of similar complaints by different people; a pattern of small, unrelated complaints that seem to always involve the same employee. Larger organizations mean more employees, more interactions amongst co-workers and more data. The unwieldiness of a large spreadsheet will obscure subtle patterns which are essential to proactive employee relations management and HR’s ability to analyze the data.

Reason 3: Spreadsheets do not scale with a growing workforce

At one extreme, Walmart has approximately 1.4 million U.S. based employees and at the other, a sole proprietorship has one. In-between, organizations can employ several hundred thousand people across multiple locations and divisions or several hundred under one roof. Even if HR diligently enters employee relations data in a spreadsheet, as the workforce grows, the unwieldiness of the massive spreadsheet grows too.

What about the presentation of the data to key HR stakeholders such as the management team, legal or finance? A spreadsheet provides a data view which is limiting, linear, and difficult to consume. The analysis is confined to different data sorts or possibly eyeballing the data in search of patterns. And where will the data go once an employee leaves the firm, or does it remain on the growing spreadsheet? These constraints are just some of the hurdles a swelling workforce will present to an HR practitioner who is using a spreadsheet as the primary tool for documentation and tracking. It certainly does not position employee relations leaders to present actionable, data-driven insights manifested in the data to their management teams.

Reason 4: Supporting documentation cannot be attached to a case management spreadsheet

Whether it is a set of interview notes or relevant employee policies, the process of documenting or investigating an employee-related event will involve supporting documentation. One advantage of HR case management systems is they allow practitioners to upload and attach pertinent, supporting documentation to a case. This functionality is particularly valuable if there is turnover within HR and different practitioners need to get hold of important papers. In contrast, a spreadsheet can be a repository of information but supporting documentation must be stored elsewhere.

45% of employee relations practitioners are still using spreadsheets to track employee-related issues and investigations.

Reason 5: A spreadsheet is not defensible, “court-ready” proof of process

When an allegation of employee misconduct is made, the internal documentation process begins. From intake straight through to remedial action, an organization must document every step taken, the involved parties, roles, escalation and the timeline. This history of the case, as well as relevant documentation, should be part of a defensible, “court-ready” case file which exhibits proof of a structured investigation process. Again, the spreadsheet falls short. A defensible case file requires a detailed investigation report, interview notes that demonstrate fact-finding protocols, and supporting evidentiary documentation.

Moreover, court cases can take years. An allegation of misconduct can escalate to a formal workplace investigation, involve litigation or simultaneously be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the time to closure can be lengthy. In 2015, the EEOC took an average of 10 months just to investigate a charge. Therefore, case files may be potentially accessed, consumed and utilized by different HR staff members over time who are in need of defensible, court-ready documentation.

No doubt, spreadsheets have their place. However, as the employee relations landscape continues to change, so too must the suite of tools practitioners utilize to mitigate employee relations risk. The right tools will collect more data, offer scalability, and aggregate information in a way that allows for more meaningful analytics and presentation. It’s why employee relations must commit to moving beyond the spreadsheet.

If your organization is ready to move from spreadsheets to HR Acuity On-Demand, a web-based, leading-edge HR case management system, contact us or call (888) 598-0161 for a one-on-one demo for your team.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.

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