My best HR management idea: Glitch-free system for keeping up with benefits changes

HR manager Rita Woodward realized that employees expected her to handle their request for benefits changes without a hitch. So she developed a method for doing just that.
Her story:
One thing we’ve learned is that when people go through a life change that affects their benefits and status with the company, they expect us in HR to handle the details seamlessly.
No one wants to hear about glitches in paperwork or anything like that. And you can’t blame them for feeling that way. In practice, though, running a no-glitch system is another matter. It takes some planning and work and the right approach.
We think we found a way to make it happen:
1. Developing a list
The first step is one that’s basic but which often gets overlooked: Develop a checklist.
Whenever an employee reports a life change – marriage, expecting a child, divorce, etc. – we start a checklist for that person. (The system started out as sheets of paper, but now exists in electronic files in our computers.)
The checklist shows:

  • all the steps we and the employee need to take
  • the deadline date for each step, and
  • the date the step was actually completed.

For instance, one of the steps might be, “Notify Payroll and insurance carriers.” Or: “Give employee forms for making changes.” Using that system allows any of us in HR to look at someone’s “record” and know what’s been done and what still has to be done.
2. Communicating obligations
The checklist also serves as an outline we use to cover the communication part of the process. Once an employee tells us about the proposed change or event — like, for instance, taking FMLA leave — we schedule a meeting with the employee.
One of us sits with the employee and runs through the steps, explaining the “what” and “why” of each step. We also explain the employee’s rights and responsibilities under the law and answer any questions, either right there or later if it requires research.
That little upfront meeting saves a lot of aggravation (and possible lawsuits) later. No one can walk in later and say, “I didn’t know,” or accuse anyone of dropping the ball. It’s all been covered.
3. Getting better
Does that make our system glitch-free? Probably not. I don’t believe anything will. But it comes pretty darn close.
Most of the time, if an error occurs, it’s because an employee didn’t hand in the paperwork on time or missed some other obligation, not because of something we did.
But, believe me, we’re working on that part of the process, too.
(Rita Woodward, HR administrator, Olney, MD)