Why ER is Your Greatest Tool During the Great Resignation

By Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady, on December 10, 2021

Has the Great Resignation impacted your business yet? If it hasn’t, it likely will in January – after employees receive their year-end bonuses. A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September alone, and the numbers continue to rise. You can do a lot to stem the tide by taking the necessary actions to keep your employees happy. And you can start by unleashing your secret weapon — your employee relations (ER) team. 

We all know people quit their jobs because of bad managers, toxic cultures and salaries that are too low, but ER can mitigate that by helping employees to have the best employee experience possible as part of their job function.  shutterstock_2043582860

Here are ways that ER can serve as your greatest tool during the Great Resignation:  

ER can support and empower managers 

Employee relations teams have the skills and knowledge to empower people leaders with confidence, consistency and best practices to manage employee issues or complaints — which are key to address before someone considers leaving. Not only does ER offer best practices for investigating claims, they also offer training to develop and support managers, resulting in fewer harassment and bullying cases and a safer workplace for employees. 

Employee relations can make sure your most valuable asset — your people — are protected. In the past, companies saw ER as a reactive group because they solve problems. And hopefully, they’ve been documenting those problems because the past can be an excellent tool for proactive action. ER teams can look at these insights and see what problems occurred and make plans to prevent them from happening again. 

For instance, if a certain manager is experiencing a high turnover among team members, the team members who left most likely are not the problem. It’s time to sit down with that manager, figure out what support they need to do their job better and help them with ongoing coaching and training. If things don’t improve, then it may be time to terminate that manager or move them to an individual contributor role.  

Coaching managers and sharing best practices for safe work environments can significantly reduce turnover and the high costs associated with it. 

Employees need to feel supported 

If no one complains, it’s easy to feel that everything is running smoothly. But it may be that employees feel that reporting problems is a waste of time, or that if they do report, nothing will be done. Past research from HR Acuity found that eighty-five percent (85%) of employees know how and where to report issues, but many lack the confidence that their issues will be addressed fairly, and/or they are afraid of retaliation. Some reasons may be that you are asking employees for feedback and then ignoring it, or you’re running employee engagement surveys and never reporting back on results. Employees quickly learn that no one listens to them. 

ER can change this. And it not only helps with retention — it can also help with recruiting. In that same research, people reported they are more likely to recommend their company if they feel their complaints have been handled appropriately.  

Handling a complaint appropriately doesn’t mean you have to agree with the employee or the manager. It can often be enough to let the employee know you’ve heard them and that you understand where they are coming from. Complaints like “Becky NEVER listens to me” are hard to decipher and you may not have all the context. But noting it, brainstorming solutions with employees and communicating next steps can change attitudes. 

ER can build and share processes that help employees feel secure 

What happens when an employee comes to a manager or an ER person and complains about bullying? If you don’t have a process in place, then people don’t know what will happen. They only have rumors and innuendo to rely on. And keep in mind that employees do talk! They will tell each other what they think happened, and even if you did an outstanding job handling the issue, employees don’t know about it unless there is a process in place. 

Employees feel supported when you clearly say, “If you have a concern, bring it to us, and then we will do X, Y and Z.” Imagine how supported an employee will feel if you hand them a document or host an information session that clearly states how your ER team handles investigations, and then you stick to it? An employee who is on the brink of leaving may turn around and stay if they know you support their concerns.  

While companies in the past have increasingly used processes for ER investigations, the pandemic changed that, and there was a sharp decline. Your employees want support and processes, and reporting helps demonstrate what’s in place and how well it’s working. 

Remember to use your ER teams to help train and support managers, investigate and resolve complaints, and make people feel comfortable at work. It can help protect you from the Great Resignation and keep employees happy long after.

Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady
Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady

Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She's sure not evil. She's super nice! Learn more about her at www.evilhrlady.org and email her directly for decidedly unevil advice.

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