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Why Specialization is at the Heart of Employee Relations

Jan 6, 2020
Deb Muller

As I reflect on 2019 (Happy New Year, by the way!), I try to think about what I can do better in this new decade, what’s been frustrating and where I could have made a greater impact.

Personally, the typical things hit my list – more self-care, more time with family, volunteer more, eat less chocolate, etc.  But professionally, the biggest frustration has been how to change the conversation about how organizations are managing employee issues, like harassment, discrimination and investigations.

doctors in teams

Even in the post #MeToo environment, I still see companies marching in the same direction – treating employee issues like service tickets. First, people aren’t widgets, and second, hasn’t #MeToo and emphasis on fair, safe employee experiences raised our sense of urgency?

Since HR Acuity is a platform specifically architected for helping organizations manage employee issues, this frustration typically manifests like this:

Prospective Client:  “We love HR Acuity, but we are being told we have to use our large IT Service Management/CMS/Ticketing System _fill in the blank” because it can do enough and it is easier for us to manage one system with one price tag as an organization.”

ERRRRR – frustration.

Now, I’ve been told that HR Acuity is the leader in Employee Relations.  We are incredibly proud of the community of Employee Relations Thought Leaders we have brought together through our Roundtable Events and the benchmarks we have established through our ongoing Studies.  Yet, we still can’t move the needle on those conversations.

So I am starting 2020 with a new analogy that to me says it all.  Whether you are trying to bring HR Acuity into your own organization or if you are just looking for ways to elevate employee relations in your organization, I hope this blog helps you drive strategic conversations and actions about how you treat your employee resources.

Now, for the analogy.  It came to me one day when I was navigating the healthcare system with one of my kids. We all have general practitioners.  Let’s consider your physician, your “GP”, as your generic case management system, the one that you may be currently using to manage your employee relations issues.

Don’t get me wrong.  The system has value and serves a purpose.  Like our GP, we go to it for the routine checkups (“How many vacation days do I have left?”) and when we get that occasional illness (“Help, my mouse is broken.”) Sometimes your GP can help improve how you are feeling (“Bob’s performance has declined.  I need some coaching help.”)

But sometimes, you need more.  Sometimes your health issues, or your employee issues, get just a bit tougher, a little more specific and a lot riskier (“I’m having chest pains.”) And that’s when you need a specialist.  In the health system, you call a cardiologist, maybe a heart surgeon.  In your organization, that’s when your employee relations professionals come into play.  Yup, that’s my analogy.  Employees are the heart of an organization, and ER are the specialists.

So often we treat our employee issues with broad strokes and all-purpose instruments. But when something goes wrong with your heart, you don’t rely on your general practitioner to solve the problem.  You require specialized, expert care. With your employee issues, it should be no different and here’s why.


It goes without saying, but just as in health care, the confidentiality of your employee relations matters requires specialized protection.  Your heart specialist might share some information with your GP – but only what they need to know. There are even regulations (i.e. HIPAA) to ensure this. Just like your medical records, no one deserves unauthorized access to your sensitive workplace information, especially an investigation.

Most general systems are managed by IT and don’t provide this important level of granularity.  When something goes wrong at work, you must have the right system in place ensure that only those that need to see this confidential information can access it.


If I or a loved one need a heart surgeon, I am going to the best.  We often hear that internal IT organizations will build the ER functionality into the “general systems” or they will recreate the existing ER workflows for them.  That would be like going to your general physician and having a working session on how they were going to perform your bypass.  Sorry, but not for me.  I want to go to someone who is the expert and then uses the most up-to-date best practices to “configure” what is best for my body.  If they start asking my advice on how to do the surgery, I am out the door!

Same with an employee relations system.  While it may not be life or death, the risks for managing your employee issues are high.  There are best practices for managing employee issues and conducting investigations.  Choose a partner who stays on top of the latest regulations and recognized court-accepted processes and knows how to work with you to successfully implement for your organization.  When health or employees are at issue, you don’t want someone building process on the fly. You want expertise built in – and an expert who can customize knowledge for your specific needs.



Yes, specialty care will cost you more, and sometimes you have to work with the insurance company (or, in our cases, procurement, IT or your business leaders) to gain access to the funds.  And typically this is not an expense that is expected (or in the case of your organization, budgeted).  But does that mean you put the heart surgery off?  What are the risks of not doing it?  What are the short- and long-term benefits of getting it done correctly?  Investing in the right employee relations technology is no different.

Many times, the ER technology spend gets put off.  Using it will help mitigate or reduce the risk of lawsuits  – cost avoidance – but that’s hard to measure or track so therefore, it loses its prioritization.  Hmmm. My doc says my arteries aren’t in good shape and I should have a bypass to reduce the likelihood of heart attack or death.  That’s cost avoidance too, right?  Do I put it off?


Who’s had good outcomes? Not all doctors are alike, and neither are all tech partners.  Look for others who have had success and ask for recommendations.


Don’t go to the doctor who’s been doing it the same way for 20 years. You want someone who’s staying on the cutting edge. In employee relations, you want to see someone who stays current with data, analytics, reporting, enhances their technology regularly based on feedback and a fully supported roadmap. It’s a new world of work.

Dealing with the heart.

Unlike other resources in your organizations, your Human Resources are unique.  They have hearts, emotions and require a different type of care to ensure they are the best fit for the job and your organization. Managing employees requires not just standard technology, innovation and best practices, but empathy, flexibility and fairness.

You can tell this is a conversation that is meaningful to me – close to my heart, even. (Sorry.) But that’s because I feel so strongly that how we deal with employee when things go wrong can and must change. Treating employee issues generically will produce generic employee experiences – and none of our organizations can afford that.

Let me know what you think. Drop me a line at And happy new year!

Ready to see how HR Acuity can help your organization streamline its investigations process? Request a demo of our employee relations case management software.

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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