We know about the sandwich generation: employees who bear the responsibility of balancing are for their parents and their own children. Thinking of that analogy it strikes me that HR professionals might be the sandwich profession. We strive for the proverbial seat at the table. Some talk of a lack of respect or recognition from executive team members. On the flip side we strive for the trust of our employees. So how do we balance serving the tenuous task of simultaneously serving as an employee and management consultant? Is it possible? I remember when I was in HR and serving as an employee’s representative in our non-union grievance process she asked me, “How can you represent me when [employer] pays you?!” She did not believe it could work or trust that I could serve as her advocate. My answer? “If I don’t adequately represent you, you won’t be happy and you have other resources outside of [employer] you can contact. So by serving you well I serve [employer] well. That’s my job.”
But who is responsible for maintaining positive employee relations? Clearly any employee and his or her direct supervisor/manager share that responsibility. And how that responsibility is shared between the two is where HR might lend a hand and help to clarify. But it depends upon how the HR role is structured within the organization. There are one of two common roles I see and hear assigned to HR in the coaching, counseling and corrective action (CCC) processes: (1) HR is a resource and advisor to employees and management but management retains the discretion and responsibility for issuing and implementing CCC; or (2) HR sits with management and shares in the CCC of an employee. I much prefer the first model for service delivery and CCC.
Imagine you are the employee and HR just sat in a meeting you had with your manager during which you were coached, counseled or received corrective action. You feel all the facts were not known, your side was not heard or it just was not fair. To whom will you now complain? If you feel there is no neutral or unbiased resource within the company, “Who Ya Gonna Call?” Federal, state or local human rights commission? Ding!
So if and when you are thinking about (re)structuring the processes by which employees are CCC’d consider the above. Ensure there is a resource outside the employee’s chain of command that remains outside of that process to serve as an advisor and sounding board for the employee. And if you need some guidance to back you up on this recommendation, consider the U.S. EEOC as a source: click here and see Q & A #10.
Then stand in the shoes of those whom you serve. Ask for their feedback on your internal policy, process and procedure. What should we stop, start and continue to enhance our service deliver to employees and management team members? I’ve learned some much from so many over the years – from leaders and front line workers. No one strategy is “right” or best but some seem to have more success than others. And that success will be defined by HR’s end-users. So I share with you some of my tips for maintaining positive employee relations:
- Are we doing what’s right for us (HR) or for our customers? (asked when our employees asked us to open the HR department at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. for those coming off the night shift)
- HR is a service department; our job is to serve employees – ALL employees: leadership, management and staff.
- Give employees a voice; let them know they are heard. Let HR be that ear.
- And one of my personal favorites, “Take care of employee relations today or be prepared for labor relations tomorrow.” (my own)
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