Employee relations can be lonely work, which seems strange for a job in which you talk to people every day. People outside the profession don’t quite understand the critical balance between solving employee problems and protecting the company. And sometimes, that line is blurry, even for ER practitioners.
When you spend your day solving problems, you can find yourself stretched thin and feeling drained. This past year, ER professionals managed all of the usual issues with manager/employee conflicts, performance matters and investigations. In addition to the typical employee matters, ER leaders had to navigate rapidly changing policies around issues such as travel, remote work, Covid-19 guidelines, vaccination programs, return to work planning and mask enforcement.
You can do it! Here’s How.
To be an effective employee relations leader, you need help from others who understand where you are. Unfortunately, in many businesses, not only is the ER practitioner the only one, but they’re also an HR generalist who handles everything from recruiting to benefits administration. But even larger ER teams are eager for benchmarking data from other organizations to validate their efforts and ensure they are on the right track.
By networking with other ER practitioners, you can find great solutions and best practices.
What to do when a Google search doesn’t provide the answers
It’s easy enough to look up CDC guidelines for mask-wearing, but it’s not as easy to implement a policy in your own organization. People have strong feelings, and your decisions affect not only employees but customers too. When you have feelings mixed with health, combined with politics, it can be a tricky tightrope to walk.
You didn’t train for this, and no mentor prepared you for this type of policy, and yet, here we are. So, when you can get feedback from other professionals and hear how they are navigating policies, it makes it so much easier to do your job and do it well. (Although, a caution: some of these policy questions also have legal aspects, so please consult with your local employment attorney to make sure you aren’t unknowingly violating any state or local laws.)
Having a network of trusted colleagues at the ready that you can contact to compare challenges, solicit advice and vet your ideas can help you expand your knowledge and offer expertise you can’t get elsewhere. Talking through possible outcomes is invaluable and can take the uncertainty out of difficult ER decisions. The experience of other professionals can help you to realize unique perspectives and make a better choice for your own company.
Help with compartmentalization
ER professionals often solve other people’s problems and keep their secrets as much as they can without harming other employees or putting the company at risk. So, when we’re off the clock, it’s necessary to shut down that part of our brain and go about our personal lives.
If only it were as easy as flipping a switch. Sometimes we need to process things. If you’ve had to terminate an employee or listen to a heart wrenching tale of bullying, you can go home with a heavy heart.
Working with a community of people who understand the burdens you face can help you separate work concerns from home concerns. Just knowing you’re not alone can make it easier to take a deep breath and move forward.
Handling uncomfortable conversations
Perhaps the top point on an employee relations job description should be “Has difficult conversations, daily.”
When you are faced with a difficult situation, it can be very helpful to get wording suggestions from HR professionals who handled similar situations. For example:
Had to ask employees uncomfortable questions about harassment? Check.
Had to tell someone his position has been eliminated? Check.
Had to coach a manager on how to have difficult conversations with their employees? Double-check.
But there is a balance. You also get to celebrate an employee who meets all the requirements for a performance improvement plan and support an employee through critical cancer treatments and see her return to work after an FMLA-approved leave. You get to witness employees soar.
To see success, you have to get through the uncomfortable conversations. Working together with other ER practitioners can make those situations easier. The simple question, “Do you have any talking points?” can arm you with tips and tricks on how to handle challenging conversations and steer you around pitfalls.
Other’s shared experiences can give us a reality check and make us feel supported.
Sharing Best Practices
Business journals don’t necessarily focus on the unique problems that your job or company faces – there is no one size fits all. The best practice for retaining software engineers may not be the best practice for retaining HVAC repair people. However, you can work with other HR people in similar companies with similar cultures to find the best practices they follow and benefit from their experience so you can devise practices for your organization.
You can brainstorm solutions and develop ideas that work for your organization--not just the ones that the Harvard Business Review decided to study. Leveraging online tools gives you access to other professionals in the field and allows you to share and benefit from best practices in your line of work for timely issues. You can share your return to work plan, or discuss how your investigation documentation helped out when faced with a lawsuit. Collaborating with a community of other ER professionals ensures you aren’t having to start from scratch with instating these types of new policies and procedures.
This is why smart ER and HR professionals are eager to connect and learn from each other. It’s much easier to do with the support of other people, even if your business isn’t big enough to have a dedicated ER team. Joining a private, safe community dedicated to the nuances of employee relations, such as HR Acuity’s empowER, can extend your knowledge and give you the insights you need to strategically and proactively manage your employee relations.
Working with a community of professionals can ease the burdens on employee relations practitioners. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes. And since many HR and ER professionals are alone at the office, it’s vital to join communities to lighten that workload.
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.