Human Resources News & Insights

My best HR management idea: Ending the interruptions caused by employees’ questions

HR manager Teresa Stevens found that her day consisted of a series of interruptions to answer employees’ questions about HR-related matters. Then, she hit on an idea to end the interruptions and keep employees happy. If I had a dollar for every repeat HR-related question that got asked here, I probably wouldn’t need a 401(k) to fund my retirement.

It’s not that we minded answering, and most of them were pretty good questions. The problem was the amount of time it took to, for example, answer the same question we’d heard twice the day before. 

We had considered setting up an intranet with an HR frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) section, but we knew we’d never cover all the inquiries we heard, no matter how comprehensive we tried to be. 

Still, the intranet idea seemed to be a solution. Maybe it just needed a little twist. 

Electronic ‘forum’
Instead of setting up FAQs, we established a “forum”-style Web page. On that page, employees can ask questions (anonymously, if they wish), which get answered by someone in HR, at our convenience. So everyone in our organization can see the questions and answers — and we’re not interrupted. 

Since setting up the forum, it’s amazing how many times we hear, “That’s exactly the question I was thinking of asking.” 

And of course, every time that happens, we realize it’s a case of one less question we’d have to re-answer if we didn’t have the forum. 

(Teresa Stevens, HR assistant, City of Springfield, MO)

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  1. Although fielding employee questions can be annoying and disruptive of other activities during the day, the idea of directing employees to a web page to ask questions, in this case HR-related questions, may result in that HR department missing out on opportunities to: 1) Learn if there are underlying issues prompting the questions in the first place (e.g, poorly communicated information); 2) Learn the exent of a problem by virtue of the number of employees who ask that question or one close to it; 3) Probe further into the questions being asked to determine if other questions or issues exist in the employees’ minds; 4) Ask about how their work is going, how are things in their work area or department, what is the mood of the workforce, and so forth; 5) Learn from these casual, personal interactions with employees what is going on in the organization (i.e., an “ear to the ground”); and 6) Interact with employees to further develop relationships with them and what’s going on in their lives.

    nformation gained from casual, one-on-one, employee initiated contacts with HR can be an invaluable source of information and ideas to help lead and guide the organization, as well as uncover any festering problem areas.

    If employees come to believe the prefered method of asking questions of the HR department is via the web page, it may not be long before problems of substance will not be known by HR or the organization’s management until they become far more serious than what would otherwise have been necessary. It is unfortunate in today’s high-tech world, that employee questions and interactions with them have become annoying and are viewed as interfering with work on projects or other tasks.

  2. Christine says:

    Although I can definitely see each side of this issue, I have to admit that as an HR Director myself, I do sometimes feel as if my entire day revolves around the “interruption” questions. And that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy interacting with employees, but as any manager knows, there is so much more that needs to be done to meet someone else’s deadline. We don’t have the luxury of just sitting and waiting for employees to bring us questions, there is work to be done!

    Maybe a way to integrate the two sides would be to use the intranet Q&A forum, and watch for trends in the questions, then address those trends appropriately, maybe through questionnaires, employee meetings, another area of the intranet, or mass emails, whatever works for you and your organization.

    When you can’t write a sentence in an important letter, or get the facts and figures requested by your manager together for her presentation to the board because the phone rings, email buzzes, and the door is constantly darkened by employees, something will HAVE to give!

  3. Jackie T says:

    I absolutely agree with Christine on one thing and that is that “something will have to give”, but what gives is the big question. I believe as long as “Human” is part of my title, that I have to make the time (maybe not at the very moment they stick their head through my door and ask ‘are you busy’) but the employee has to be the priority. If I have to ask them to come back in an hour, then I do that, but I work for them as well as the management and they are my “customer”. Finding that balance is hard, but nothing replaces face to face time and even if the question seems benign I spend the time because if they know they can come to me for the small things, they will then come with the really important “need to know” issues as well.

  4. I concur with Jackie T. Perhaps the issue isn’t that she has too many “interruptions” but that the HR function has become understaffed for the volume.

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