It’s almost a mantra with company leaders: “People are our most important asset.” But when it comes to providing technology to manage that asset in the most efficient and effective way, too many Employee Relations (ER) professionals seem to get the short end of the stick.
As I was reflecting on the results of our Fifth Annual Employee Relations Benchmark Study, the metrics showing the need for technology stood out to me. The study revealed a significant uptick in the percentage of ER teams now responsible for data analytics — a 13-point jump to 86%. But from what we’re seeing on the ground, many ER teams are still making do with outdated manual methods or one-size-fits-all systems that don’t quite fit the bill.
At many successful companies, business leaders intuitively recognize that their finance, sales or supply chain teams need modern financial planning, CRM or ERP platforms to do their jobs efficiently. So why aren’t all those companies as willing to invest in ER technology to manage their most valuable asset? Let’s dig into what might be holding them back.
Why Teams Still Lack ER Technology Tools
As background, the Benchmark Study shows that ER technology adoption has gained traction. But we also know that budget constraints still force many ER teams to use email, spreadsheets or even paper files to manage and track employee issues. Teams are often told to “make do” with whatever is available, like “all-in-one” solutions that weren’t built with ER in mind. No wonder it’s a challenge to document, track, manage and report incidents.
Others have a piece of the puzzle, like reporting methods or compliance tools that can streamline specific tasks, but their current assets don’t come close to comprehensively addressing ER’s specific needs. Teams in this situation tend to cobble together processes using a combination of manual resources, HRIS, etc., and figure out a way to make it work. When teams have to work to piece information together, they don’t have a holistic picture of what is taking place across the organization. This bird’s eye view into all employee incident data is critical for understanding inclusion issues, identifying trends and tracking predictive indicators.
The downside of the “make it work” strategy is that ER professionals waste a lot of time dealing with workarounds. As the role of ER continues to expand and requests for data increase, it’s becoming more difficult for ER leaders to keep up with demand. It becomes an enormous challenge to handle ER issues consistently in that situation, which undermines employee trust. When employee relations doesn’t have the technology needed to streamline processes and produce analytics on the fly, there are downstream ramifications for the entire company.
Rising Demand for Reporting Results in Fire Drills
The context is important when thinking about how often workarounds are actually successful. Our latest Benchmark Study found that half of ER teams are storing data in case management systems, which gives them more confidence in the numbers when they’re asked to pull reports together and/or analyze data. But what about the other half — the ER teams that have to find and consolidate data from disparate sources?
It’s not a hypothetical since the study tells us the overwhelming majority of companies are looking to ER teams to get the data and analytics company leaders need to make critical workforce decisions. Anecdotally, we’ve heard about recurring requests that require ER professionals to drop everything for weeks each quarter and work with IT to gather information for high-priority reports.
With the right ER technology, that quarterly fire drill wouldn’t be necessary. And even better, the efficiency gains would give the ER team more time for work that mitigates risk and creates safe, fair and productive workplaces. Technology is the first step in enabling ER teams to deliver the positive employee experience that employers need to compete for the best talent.
Be the Squeaky Wheel
As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. If your ER team doesn’t yet have the technology you need to handle employee issues consistently and manage your growing list of reporting and analytics responsibilities, put together a business case for that investment.
We know from findings in reports like the HR Acuity Employee Experience Survey that the way ER issues are handled has a significant influence on whether an employee ultimately decides to stay with the company or leave. In fact, the process matters as much as the outcome of the investigation. The sky-high cost of employee turnover is a powerful incentive to improve ER technology all by itself.
Full transparency is the best way forward, so it’s a great idea to calculate what the status quo costs in terms of time and opportunity. Now is the best time to start tracking how many hours, days and weeks it takes to gather ER information for reporting. It’s also a good time to quantify the human impact of using outdated tools and the cost in terms of employee retention.
Identify a champion on the leadership team to help you communicate the critical nature of the request, including the ER team’s ability to do more with fewer resources when processes are automated. With this approach, you’ll make a solid business case for the ER technology you need to up-level the employee experience at your company.
As with any adoption of new tech, incorporating ER technology requires an upfront investment of time and money. But remember, it’s an investment in the company’s greatest asset: its people.
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, a technology solution that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world. Be proactive. Manage risk. Create a safer workplace.