Employee Relations Case Management as a “new normal” HR Tool

employee relations case management

As business owners and HR professionals struggle to determine the new normal for their company and employees, we will collectively be leaning toward more automation like employee relations case management tools and online resources to get our day-to-day work done. Many, or even most, companies have implemented some form of HR technology in their list of tools, but generally, these tools relate to payroll, time management, and HRIS systems. In this time of layoffs, staggered rehiring, and remote workers becoming the majority, technology must also come into play for even the more people-facing functions. As you’ll see in our free employee’s guide “Plan to Return Employees to Work” 95% of HR professionals believe that How HR communicates with employees during the pandemic will have a direct impact on how effectively we will be able to return employees work, whatever that new work life looks like.  Many of our current processes for ensuring employee needs and concerns are heard will not work effectively moving forward, and we need new methods now or risk losing employees and liability exposure for non-compliance.

If you haven’t yet read Josh Bersin’s newest report “Why HR Technology Matters Now More Than Ever” I would highly suggest it. In the report he states:

“When combined with the support of an expert partner, HR tech can transform a SMB. The right tools can help HR grow into a true strategic partner and help employee relations become more transparent. When a crisis hits, HR technology gives leaders the data, tools, and support they need to make decisions quickly.”

Although it is no surprise to HR that technology can streamline many processes and day-to-day functions, it isn’t often that HR tech companies talk about the importance of automating employee relations. Today’s technology options allow HR to retain the interpersonal relations, while still reducing time and ensuring consistency across the company. Let’s take a look at a serious employee relations issue, and how the scenario will play out both with and without technology.

Jane’s video call

An employee (Jane) just had a video call with her Supervisor (Sarah). During the call, Sarah’s husband entered the room and seemed to be getting something from the closet behind Sarah. Sarah asked Jane to hold on a couple of times over the course of about 5 minutes and put Jane on hold while she turned around and said something to her husband. This happened 4 or 5 times, and each time Sarah came back to the call she was giggling. The last time that Sarah asked Jane to hold on a moment, she forgot to mute the microphone and said some inappropriate things to her husband. When she returned, she realized that she had not been on mute and she said to Jane, “Oh you know, we’re typical newlyweds. Maybe we should continue the call later”. And the call was ended.

Without TechnologyWith Technology
Jane was embarrassed and didn’t want to have to have any more conversations with her supervisor. But she didn’t think she had any choice.Jane thought she should let someone know, so she had a decision to make. Should she report this through the employee concern line?
  
Jane decided that she would try to avoid video calls with her supervisor as much as possible. She told her supervisor that her laptop audio wasn’t working and asked if they could just do their updates by email.Jane decided that she had to anonymously report her concerns about company video calls and asked that there be tighter rules put in place and conveyed to everyone using them. She hoped that the new rules would make her supervisor realize her error and be more careful.
  
Jane found that without these regular check-in discussions, she was missing out on critical information she needed to be successful in her job. She decided that it was time she considered a transfer to another department.HR received the complaint, and decided not only to create a strong policy, but also to conduct some training for all staff using video calls. They also contacted Jane through the anonymous reply feature and thanked Jane for her suggestion. Jane felt good knowing she had done the right thing.
  
Within 8 weeks, Jane had heard of a similar position opening with another company and decided to leave her job.When Jane’s supervisor attended the training and received the new policy, she considered the fact that maybe she had made a big mistake. She decided to ensure that her door was closed and locked during calls and began to approach video calls in a more professional manner.

Using apps and software for employee communication, both the good and the bad is no longer nice to have, but something every company must have.  I was recently on a webinar with Jason Averbook who very eloquently said, “We need to stop thinking the old world is coming back quickly. Stop waiting and do something.”  with HR and managers must be prepared and equipped to handle these communications promptly and consistently to protect their organization. But even more importantly, this is critical to protecting the strong company culture that we have all worked so hard to establish and maintain.

If you are interested in learning more about the InvestiPro employee relations case management and investigation system schedule a brief 15-minute chat or a product demo below, or cruise around our website at investipro.com.

Employee Complaints: Employees Want To Be Heard. What’s Your Plan?

employee complaints

Race, age and sex discrimination • Wrongful termination • Retaliation • ADA accommodation violation • OSHA violations

These are just a few of the employee complaints that are increasing due to actions employers have and are taking since the COVID-19 Pandemic began. Let’s face it, we had to act fast based on Stay-at-Home mandates, and decisions were being made on the fly. Whether or not we followed our policies, this swift action is bound to have had an impact on employee perception.

According to a recently released SHRM article, “U.S. workers have filed about 5,000 coronavirus-related employee complaints of unsafe conditions and nearly 1,400 whistleblower complaints alleging they were fired or otherwise punished for raising coronavirus concerns.”

On May 7th, EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon made a public statement on preventing National Origin and Race Discrimination During the COVID-19 Outbreak due to an uptick in reports of mistreatment and harassment by Asian American workers.

And in a conversation with Joe Werner, Asst. Vice President at Nationwide Insurance, Joe stated that EPL policyholders and personnel attorneys are reporting higher than normal numbers of claims.

Worldwide, many of the activities we do as a regular part of life are now completely different than they were just a couple of months ago. Stress and anxiety are at a high level for many people. And the impact of the pandemic on our jobs and income in the future is unknown. So, it is critical that employers initiate and embrace discussions with employees about what is and is not working.

InvestiPro conducted a survey of over 9000 HR professionals in the U.S., and an astonishing 95% of them stated they believe that how HR communicates with employees right now will have a strong impact on how successful their company is at returning employees to work. And returning employees who are engaged and ready to work, whether it be from home or in the workplace, is critical to the recovery of our businesses and the economy as a whole.

Employees need to be heard. We can’t fix what we don’t know, so it is no longer enough to just assume employees will let you know when something isn’t working. It is up to HR and business leaders to provide a means for employees to bring forward their concerns and complaints. Now more than ever we need to encourage open and honest communication. Much of what is brought forth may be perception instead of reality, but perception can be just as damaging. And once we have a clear picture of how our employees feel, we can take the necessary steps to clear up misconceptions and remind our workers why they want to return to work.

Once employee concerns or complaints are received, it is crucial that they be addressed promptly. We don’t have all of the answers yet, and it is okay to admit that. But often, just knowing that they have been heard, and the matter will be addressed when appropriate, is all our employees need from us right now.

If you are looking for a way to receive, document, and resolve employee complaints and concerns in a fair and consistent manner and reduce the amount of time involved, InvestiPro can help. Learn more at Investipro.com.

Balancing Empathy and Accountability with Remote Workers

Written by Hannah Kirkland

Maintaining a supportive environment while still encouraging employees to be productive is a tough balancing act. Requiring employees to work from home with family staying hone as well, adds a new element to the balancing act. However, there are a handful of ways that you can maintain contact with employees this balance and ensure that your employees will come out of this situation productive and happy with your organization. 

Empathize

Staying productive while working through a traumatic event is hard. It’s essential that you and your managers are available to all employees. Leaders can help work through this time of uneasiness by setting a positive tone for employees and creating a calm presence that maintains a composed environment so employees can focus on their work. Additionally, consider encouraging self-care practices while people are working from home. With the daily overabundance of COVID-19 updates, encourage your workers to exercise, establish a routine, and take walks throughout their day. And remember to take this advice for yourself as well.

Initiate stress checks

Many employees will adapt well to working from home. But even in the best of cases, there are distractions, surprises and challenges that all employees will face. This will result in one of two things, added stress or reduction in performance. While HR and Managers need to be flexible and understanding, the work still needs to be done. Ensuring you have some scheduled time to check in on how employees are doing in this difficult time is more important than ever. But time is limited. Try checking in with your whole group using surveys to let your employees know you care. Or set up a group chat where workers can reach out to each other, their manager or HR. so they know they are not alone. There are a number of of different programs that are easy to setup, including Slack or Microsoft Teams. Consider asking questions regarding if they feel like there is enough communication throughout their team, if it is clear what their goals are, and if they have all necessary items to complete their work.

Establish clear performance expectations

We all know that you can’t hold employees accountable for requirements that they do not clearly understand. With remote work, it is easy to miss a message or misunderstand what is meant in a written message as opposed to a discussion. This is a great time for HR to spend some time working with managers on how to effectively communicate direction and clear goals. It is expected and encouraged that they will be empathetic to their employees challenges and fears right now, but that conversation needs to move into what is needed to ensure the work is also getting done. This requires clear communication on a regular basis. These can be one-on-one meetings or in small groups. They can be via email or chat, but expectation communications are best done via video chat to ensure everyone is providing their full attention. These types of meetings will work to provide support while also measuring a worker’s success and productivity. Which will provide a smoother transition when it is time to return to work.

Offer flexible schedules, time management resources, and clear work-from-home rules 

In order for your employees to be productive and reduce time theft, it is important to be flexible with working hours when possible. Employees that are allowed to break up their work day while working from home will often get more work done due to having more time when they can focus. This doesn’t mean that you need to allow employees to work when they want, just to have a means to allow for work outside of the standard 8-5. Providing a time management system Allows managers insight into where employees are spending their time, and allow employees to communicate when they will be working so that teams can schedule proper interaction and ensure workflow is effective. Working with employees to determine hours that will work within their home, especially if they are trying to manage their children’s homeschooling schedules can create loyalty, reduce stress, and make it more likely that the employee will return when this time is behind us. And communicating clear rules of when employees are required to be available and when they can have flexibility will ensure coverage for customers and that deadlines are met.

Make sure your employees have what they need to be productive

For many, working remotely is more difficult than coming into the office. More than likely, your company is already working from home if it is possible due to most states being under Stay-At-Home orders. In order to hold employees accountable at this time, it is up to the employer to provide the tools needed to get the work done. Encourage workers to have a dedicated workspace if there is an area in their home where they can do so. Provide a means of communications for employees who realize they do not have something that they need to do the work. Provide guidance on how to set up an ergonomically friendly workstation at a table or desk. Allow employees a small budget for obtaining items that are generally available at the office, such as file folders or a stapler, that they might not have at home. And most importantly, ensure the proper so software and/or applications needed to discourage employees from downloading solutions that may be damaging to your IT infrastructure or their individual devices. establish a working routine, and ask them if they are unable to fulfill certain aspects of their job because they are not in the office. 

Bring attention to company resources for mental health

Your benefits program is a good place to begin. Ensure employees understand and know how to access medical, and mental health providers covered under their plan or an Employee Assistance Program. Communicate relevant policies such as paid leave, benefit continuation or work-related product reimbursements. Don’t just explain these benefits one time. Provide regular communications regarding local and state provisions avaiable to those who are ahving difficulties managing such as food distribution. Suggest taking mental health breaks including yoga, meditation or walking outside. You may even want to provide a resource for employees to use such as an online exercise program. As uncertainty mounts and we are unsure of when we can go back to the office, workers will need different resources at different times. So ensure communication is plentiful.

Offer opt-in team building activities

Working from home can be isolating and mentally taxing. Offer different ways that employees can continue to interact with each other. Examples could include a virtual “water cooler” lunch every Friday, playing trivia games with each other, and creating humor channels on Slack (or whatever messaging system you use). It will be beneficial for employees to interact with their coworkers in ways that are not solely work-focused. This can help to raise organizational morale. Be mindful that these events should be optional, but available to all. 

Throughout this time, HR and managers should work together, listen to employees’ concerns, and engage everyone individually and also as part of a group, so that productivity and support both remain high. 

Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of the Employers Guide for Post-COVID-19 “Plan to Return Your Employees to Work”.

The Best Way to Avoid EEOC Claims

When a letter comes in the mail with a return address of the EEOC, I think we can all agree that it’s not likely to be good news. But there are a few changes that can be done to reduce or avoid EEOC claims all together. The EEOC  harassment task force spent a great deal of time and money to determine that it is all about accountability. Here are the top takeaways:

  1. Accountability must be demonstrated.
  2. An effective anti-harassment system that includes safe reporting, thorough investigation and proportionate corrective actions creates a cycle that reduces harassment.
  3. A trusted system drives earlier reporting for more effective resolution.

Consistent accountability across all levels of an organization is not going to magically fix all of your people-based challenges overnight. But with time, and consistent application of process, here are a few of the improvements you can expect.

Example: An employee feels as though he is spoken to disrespectfully by his manager based on his ethnicity.

Issue                                                       Before accountability             After accountability builds trust

Productivity EE feels that his work will be unfairly critiqued, and he has no hope for promotion. Why work hard or provide innovating ideas when he will likely be subject to humiliation in front of his peers? EE feels comfortable talking with HR and working to improve communications between he and his Manager. He begins to take pride in his  work again and hopes to grow within the company.
Disengagement EE doesn’t want to bring attention to himself or his work as the attention he gets always seems to be negative. So, he does a minimal amount of work, doesn’t take risks, ask questions or try to improve or speed up production. Once the EE feels better in his work environment, he generally wants to show appreciation by showing that he is a loyal employee, works hard and is a good candidate for future promotion.
Absenteeism Stress and depression from a hostile work situation often manifest in physical symptoms and depressed immune system functions that lead to an increase in the number of days calling in sick to work. Knowing that problems can and will be addressed respectfully and result in a positive outcome allows the employee to get up every morning feeling positive about going to work. He wants to be accountable to his peers.
Turnover EE feels that there is no way to fix the disrespect and unfair treatment in his job and the only choice he has is to leave. Along with the employee, skills and product knowledge go out the door. Research shows that employees who feel they are treated fairly and are given growth opportunities are almost 60% more likely to stay and move into the next level of job.
Recruiting EEs who leave their jobs often feel disgraced. This leaves them more likely to share the reason why they could not stay both in person and on social media. Potential employees read these reviews and are deterred from applying. Positive employee reviews generally don’t happen unless employees really enjoy their work, management and the company. High ratings increase the number of applicants received for open positions and make it easier to hire good candidates more quickly.

 

The Harassment Task Force put together a simple one-page Employer Checklist that I suggest every HR professional should go through twice. The first time as the HR resource in your company evaluating your harassment and discrimination complaint and prevention process. And the second time as an employee considering what you would answer if you had a complaint or witnessed unacceptable behavior. Then I challenge you to write down at least three things you can do to change the perception of the accountability process in the eyes of your employees. If you need help, read this post for a few suggestions. Every process has room for at least a little improvement.

Implement a compliant, consistent investigation process with InvestiPro!

Can’t We Have Consistency, Compliance AND Compassion?

An article posted yesterday in the SHRM HR Daily Newsletter, took a stand that in HR matters,  “Consistency Might Not Be Worth the Cost.” Although I understand that no two situations are exactly the same, and careful consideration of all the factors should drive reasonable outcomes, taking out the need for consistency seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

For literally decades, employment attorneys have been driving into the heads of HR professionals that consistent compliance is everything. Why? Because defending a discrimination, harassment or retaliation claim is extremely difficult when there is no fair and consistent process in place. How can you prove that treatment is unbiased? And liability protection is a big part of the HR function. But I agree, it is not everything.

The dangers of having a culture where it’s okay to decide on an individual basis what is acceptable or allowed and what is not, are more about the impact on culture than about liability. HR professionals and managers are human. And quite frankly, the concern is about leaving the door open to favoritism and unconscious biased based decisions.

The good news is, in this case, you can have it all! You can implement a consistent compliant process that uses organizational beliefs, core values and standards as measurables to determine outcomes. It’s about implementing a consistent, transparent process that is the right fit for your culture and can clearly define and document why and how decisions are made. It doesn’t have to mean the same decision every time. But it does have to mean using the same process to come to the right decision every time, and documenting how that is done.

The benefits of using a consistent, complaint and compassionate process

A consistent, compliant process for handling and/or investigating a situation or incident allows employees to see that:

  • the organization cares about how all people are treated in the workplace.
  • A predictable and transparent process means that employees will be treated fairly and with respect, no matter what the outcome.
  • their voices matter and there are means to begin conversations on things that are not working before they become big issues.

Once employees understand and trust the consistent processes, they will use them earlier and more frequently to resolve issues resulting in:

  • quicker and more respectful resolution to problems large and small.
  • increase in team work efficiencies and enjoyment.
  • peer to peer resolution through more open communication.
  • reduction in fear of bringing issues to the forefront.

Let’s face it, employees who feel they are treated fairly in opportunities, valued in their contribution, and respected in communication and treatment thrive in the work environment.  It is okay to be creative, open to new ideas and practices, but we don’t need to lose consistency in order to do it.

Do you know how your employees feel after an HR investigation?

This is a question we ask often, and it tends to take people by surprise. Why? Because they are not sure. After 25+ years of conducting HR investigations,  I understand the reasons why we don’t continue to talk with employees after an investigation is complete. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. Or is it?

As HR is finding new focus on strengthening company culture as a strategic step toward more effective recruiting, retention, engagement and employee development, we are finding new and better ways of receiving feedback from employees on their total work experience. Unfortunately, this does not yet seem to have made its way to matters of accountability, investigations and discipline as discussed in The HR Happy Hour Podcast.

In our company, we talk to HR professionals about their investigation practices every day. And we see consistent patterns in the feedback we receive about the investigation process. But when we ask how employees feel after an investigation, there is often silence. Some will say, “Nobody feels good after an investigation”. We’ve even heard strong statements such as, “Just the word investigation makes our employees feel like criminals”. And there are those times we hear, “I think they feel okay about it”. But wouldn’t it be better to know how they feel rather than to guess?

Small Changes have a Big Affect

Bad feelings fester. It’s just part of being human. Think about how you feel after a conflict, argument, bad customer service experience or even simply being cut off in traffic. That anger and frustration carries with you for some time. Now think of the relief you feel when the person who cut you off waves and says sorry, or the sales person apologizes and says they didn’t mean to snap at you, they got stuck working a double shift and are just exhausted. This immediately changes how you feel about the incident.

Asking for feedback after an HR investigation does not need to be another big task on your list of things you simply don’t have time for. It can be as easy as creating a brief email template that you send out to every participant each time you complete an investigation. Here’s a sample you can use to get started.


HR Investigation Follow Up Sample Letter

Dear Sonya,

 I wanted to take a moment to thank you for participating in the investigation we just concluded because I understand it can be a  bit uncomfortable at times.  The process is here to ensure our workplace is fair, safe and respectful for everyone. So, if you could please take a moment to reply and respond to the three questions below, I would really appreciate your opinions. The information  will not be shared and will provide me with the insight needed to continue to refine and improve the investigation process moving forward. Thanks for your time.

  1. Was the investigation process what you had expected from the beginning? 
  2. At any point in the investigation did you feel disrespected, uncomfortable or unsafe? 
  3. Do you have any suggestions on how the investigation could have been a better experience for you?

If you would like to talk in person, please let me know and we can schedule a few minutes. Thank you again.


If you conduct post investigation feedback or have any questions on how this works, please comment below so we can all benefit from each other’s experience.

Did you know you can reduce time by up to 40% using an automated, consistent process?

Check out Investipro today!

 

5 Reasons We Don’t Need HR Investigation Software

There are several reasons why HR professionals say they don’t need an HR investigation software, but there are a few that I hear time and time again. You may even find yourself using one or more of the reasons below. And that’s understandable with all the new technologies entering the HR marketplace today. As a 25- year HR professional myself, I used to feel the same way. But before you reply on the same old responses, it may be worth looking a bit deeper.

Let’s look at the 5 reasons “why we don’t need HR investigation software” that I hear most often.

  1. We have a team of HR people who conduct our investigations. They all have experience and like to do things their own way. They’d be resistant to being told how to do their investigations.
    • Good HR investigators have developed special skills such as how to draw out information from someone who doesn’t want to talk. Or, how to know when someone is lying. But no matter how strong your investigators are, using different skills and techniques can result in challenges when it comes to proving that your investigation process (or processes) are consistent and unbiased.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  2. Every investigation is different and needs to be handled according to the situation. Investigation technology is too rigid to allow us to handle each investigation accordingly.
    • If you have ever had to defend your investigation process in response to a discrimination or harassment claim with the EEOC or a state agency, then you understand the fine line between having an effective, repeatable investigation process and using your process to obtain the information needed across all types of investigations. An automated investigation platform makes it easy to prove that a consistent process is used every time by not leaving any step to chance. For example, core questions are used to begin every interview ensuring an unbiased approach with every witness. While inserting clarifying questions based on responses allows you to dig in to obtain the responses you need to make a fair determination.
  3. Investigations are time consuming enough without complicating the process with pre-determined steps and requirements.
    • No matter how you conduct your investigations, the time required can be very taxing on your staff. And if you’re a solo HR practitioner, it can really impact your schedule. When asked approximately how many hours it takes to conduct an investigation, responses were all over the board. But one thing was very consistent. When asked to provide a time estimate that included preparing for the investigation, converting notes to readable testimony, and writing the final report, the time estimates almost always doubled. An automated process can be very simple to use and reduces redundant data entry, time spent creating notices to investigation participants, and final reports are generated for you, reducing time by up to 40%.
  4. We have an attorney who we consult with on our investigations, so we’re pretty sure that we can defend our determinations and practices.
    • It is always important to have good legal counsel to provide you with guidance on appropriate corrective actions, especially in the case of a termination resulting from an investigation. But your attorney cannot be there every step of the way during the investigation itself. If your attorney participates in conducting the investigation, he or she is not able to represent you should litigation ensue, due to the potential of being called as a material witness to the case. For that reason, automated investigation technology allows for your attorney to participate in an advisory role, while the technology itself provides the built-in compliance measures needed to protect you from exposure during every step of the investigation. Most attorneys appreciate the protections that technology provides for their clients.
  5. I understand the benefits from this type of technology and how it could be useful, but it’s not at the top of our priority list. We just don’t have a need for it yet.
    • The two items that are most often on the top of the HR priority list are talent acquisition and employee performance/engagement. And rightly so. When you are struggling to fill positions as we are in the current economy, productivity slows down making it of utmost importance to fill those open positions. Especially if current staff is not working to their fullest potential. But when you flip the coin and look at these issues from a proactive rather than reactive position, it becomes clear that cultural improvement through civility and communication can improve retention and build employee trust in their managers, peer and leaders. Studies show that employees who feel appreciated and respected, stay longer and work harder. These foundational begin with accountability for all staff, in all positions, throughout the company. And if waiting results in even one claim of harassment, discrimination or retaliation, hesitation can be very costly.

If you are ready to take a new look at how technology can standardize your investigation process, save you time and money, and ensure a consistent, defensible outcome to your investigations, schedule a demo at  https://investipro.com/get-started/.  

For more helpful tips follow the HR Investigator’s Blog.

HR Offense -vs- Defense. What’s Your Plan?

It still surprises me when I hear that employees have brought forth a complaint to HR or a company executive, and no investigation was conducted. Although the numbers are reducing over time, some organizations still believe that there is less liability in simply doing nothing. Then, if a claim arises, a quick settlement is the customary resolution. But where does this leave your company culture?

Although you may have a process in place, there must be a plan for actively using the process and communicating it to employees regularly to be effective. When reviewing your policy and process, is the strategy for Offense or Defense? When your favorite sports team takes the field, do you think they just run out on the playing field and start playing? Although that might be hysterical to watch, it would obviously be chaotic and inefficient. And for some of us, I understand that is how our investigation process feels at times. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Taking an Offensive stance can reduce time spent on investigations, reduce potential liability exposure, improve retention and strengthen company culture through accountability and trust. In the SHRM article, “New Tools Aid HR During Workplace Investigations” Aaron Crews, attorney and chief data analytics officer with Littler in Sacramento, CA, confirmed that, “After receiving a notification letter from the EEOC or a state agency that a claim has been lodged, companies can respond before the regulatory body proceeds with the claim. Historically the EEOC has dropped over 53% of claims made based on the employer having performed a prompt and impartial investigation based on a planned, consistent process.

We can provide information that further explains the benefits of an Offensive stance on unwanted workplace behaviors?  Follow our Blog, and we’ll send you a whitepaper that can help.