Business owners and managers regularly ask the human resources team (sometimes a team of one), “what do we have to do in this situation?” or “how do we handle that problem?” Too often, those of us in HR think only about compliance with the many federal, state, and ever increasing number of local laws and regulations. This can result in a legalistic or cold answer. This can also turn the HR department into the department of “no, you can’t do that.”
Protecting the reputation and well-being of the company is important and we would fail as HR managers if we didn’t think about it. That being said, sometimes HR is so focused on staying out of trouble we forget the impact we can have on the business – the good and the bad.
There are four steps HR managers should follow when dealing with an employee relations issue or developing a new policy for the company.
Identify the Desired OutcomeStart with the fact that not everyone is a great communicator. When a business leader approaches HR with a problem, they expect it to be dealt with in the quickest way possible. However, if we don’t ask about their desired outcome, we may find a solution that doesn’t meet their expectations.
If the manager wants to eliminate overtime, HR must find out what they are looking to do: add headcount and spread out the work; eliminate some of the functions of the department or positions; force everyone to punch the clock at specific times regardless of the surrounding circumstances; find process improvements to become more efficient; or make the business case justifying the overtime that is incurred.
In this example, there are five potential outcomes, each different from the next. Without asking probing questions about the expected results, HR may find the most efficient solution may negatively impact the business results of the department or give the department manager the impression HR doesn’t know how to run a business.
Define the Legal Compliance RequiredAt times the path forward is straight and clear. There is only one way to handle a situation because the law is clear about the responsibilities of the employer. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. The laws may be more ambiguous and small changes in how situations are handled may impact the company’s compliance.
That being said, there is usually more than one way to implement a policy or deal with an employee relations issue while still following the intent of the law. It is the responsibility of the HR department to identify all possible solutions and measure them against the impact on the business and desired outcome from the manager.
Determine the Business ImpactOnce each of the legal options are identified, they must be analyzed for their impact on the business. If option A is chosen, will it have a negative or positive impact on the business results? Is A better than B? And so on.
The HR manager can’t make this decision in a vacuum, just like the department manager can’t make unilateral employment decisions that conflict with the practices of the rest of the company. It’s important to run through the options and develop a pros and cons list based on the expected business results of each option.
Recognize the Effect on Employee Relations
The easiest way to implement a new policy is to generate buy-in among employees that must implement the policy or those who will be impacted by it. An effective way to get this done is to invite their opinions on the potential solutions to a problem. Just as HR and the department manager must work together, gathering the input of the impacted employees will go a long way in making them feel like they have skin in the game as well.
While a business is not a democracy and majority rule doesn’t apply, ensuring that the employees’ opinions are part of the decision making process can make execution of the new policy easier and more effective. Just because we can legally develop a policy one way, and just because it provides the greatest business efficiency, doesn’t mean that it should be implemented. If it has a detrimental impact on the employees or employee engagement, any short-term gain achieved will be negated by a drop in morale and engagement.
For example, unless special circumstances apply, breaks are not required by Florida law. Can you make an employee work for 10-12 hours without a lunch break? Sure. But how long will employees stay with your company if you do? Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.
The HR department can have a great impact on the business and the employees. Walking through these four steps when developing a solution to a problem will ensure that we identify the potential impact on the business and the employees while keeping the business legally compliant. It is our responsibility to identify the best solution and not just the quickest, the easiest, or the first thing that pops into our minds.
Chad V. Sorenson, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is president of SHRM Jacksonville and has over 20 years of diverse business and human resources experience in a variety of industries. Chad also founded Adaptive HR Solutions over 8 years ago and focuses on leadership development, management training, performance management, and compliance with a wide range of companies across Florida.