In today’s dynamic and ever-evolving workplace, employee relations has emerged as a critical function for organizations seeking to foster a productive work environment.
Capital Blue Cross Employee Relations Strategist Ryan Gaither has navigated complex workplace investigations and conflict management situations, as well as policy development and enforcement. He offered some insights into key challenges and opportunities that HR and employee relations professionals face today in an episode of the HRMorning podcast “Voices of HR.”
Gaither, who also offers HR consultant services to other companies, highlighted two common scenarios that often prompt organizations to seek his expertise: high turnover and performance management communication issues between employees and managers.
In the case of turnover problems, he said, a common root cause is lack of an exit survey strategy.
“When I talk about underperforming or performance management type of situations, in those environments, are managers giving the employee the feedback that they need to be successful? … When people hear ‘performance management,’ they often think of the ugly side of HR or corrective action or terminations. … However, before those things happen, how is HR or employee relations specifically equipping managers to … coach their employees to success? How are they removing barriers that impede that employee from being successful? How are they … communicating clearly (and checking) for understanding that that employee understands the standards that he or she is going to be assessed by?” he said.
Equip managers to be successful people leaders
Gaither also stressed the importance of equipping managers with the skills to lead with empathy and effectively document their interactions with employees. Empathy is essential for creating a supportive and inclusive work environment, while documentation is crucial for mitigating legal risks and ensuring fair and consistent treatment of all employees.
“You’ll see in organizations that leaders will often say, ‘Well, I followed up enough. I’ve had this conversation a multitude of times. It’s time to move to corrective action. It’s time to move to termination.’ But as the ER (employee relations) professional … I don’t have a side. I want to see what has been done with this employee, what development has taken place. And if you don’t have any documentation to support the conversations that (you say) you’ve had, it’s very, very difficult for us to … move forward on anything actionable,” he said.
“That’s where ER plays a part (in) being that unbiased third party to advocate for the employee, but to also mitigate risk within the organization. Because we don’t want anyone to be unlawfully terminated … or even allow the door to be opened for any perceived discriminatory practices when we talk about performance management.”
Employee relations involves watching out for bias
Speaking of discrimination, it’s important to ensure that policies and procedures apply to all employees.
Gaither suggested analyzing performance management data to identify and address any patterns or disparities that could indicate discriminatory practices.
“You don’t (want to) have anything that’s going to adversely impact any one group,” he said. “Also, when you look at corrective action, one of the things that I do … is I look … throughout the year, quarterly … at (whether any) employee demographic has been adversely impacted the most when it comes to write-ups … whether that’s age, race, gender (or) even time within the organization.”
Mental health challenges in the workplace
With mental health awareness on the rise, employee relations professionals are increasingly encountering situations involving mental health issues, according to Gaither.
He advised HR pros to focus on overall employee wellness and encouraged organizations to offer employee assistance programs and foster open communication about mental health.
Depending on the situation, the Americans with Disabilities Act or Family and Medical Leave Act could come into play.