Deb Muller, CEO and Founder of HR Acuity is a keen observer of trends and developments in employee relations (ER). HR Acuity is the only technology platform built specifically for employee relations and investigations management. In today’s constantly evolving workplace environment, it is a critical moment for organizations, both large and small, to re-evaluate their HR and ER practices.
HR Acuity’s sixth annual Benchmark Survey in March 2022 focused on employee relations professionals at enterprise organizations based in the U.S. with at least 1,000 employees. The survey showed results similar to 2020, illustrating a tremendous need to adapt to new hybrid and remote work environments. HR Acuity’s employee relations platform creates processes and procedures that support a workplace culture of transparency and trust.
Grit Daily: What does HR Acuity do and provide?
Deb Muller: HR Acuity is the only technology platform built specifically for employee relations and investigations management. We empower customers with built-in intelligence, templates and reporting so they can equitably and appropriately manage employee relations issues; uncover trends and patterns through forward-looking data and analytics; and provide trusted, consistent experiences for their people. HR Acuity works with leading companies that include LinkedIn, Verizon, and Lyft. We believe there is a better way to manage employer relations.
Grit Daily: What has changed within human resource departments post Covid-19?
Deb Muller: Since the pandemic, we’ve seen great changes within HR and ER teams. The data in our Sixth Annual Benchmark Survey by itself doesn’t reveal dramatic spikes and unforeseen trends (that was so 2020). Instead, it feels like a distress signal coming from the community. While there are a few encouraging upticks in the findings, I’m compelled to shout a wake-up call to our ER community: this is the precise moment when our role is more important than it has ever been. Since Covid-19, HR and ER departments are seeing:
Rapidly shifting workforce expectations: With a new workforce that is based primarily at home, different values and expectations are arising. The study showed that 61% of respondents reported an increase in the number of accommodation requests (up 12 points over 2020), likely due to Covid-19 vaccine-related requests. This is just a small peek into one of the factors that affects company culture. We are at a critical moment in time where it is important for organizations to take into consideration employee equitability and specific needs. Employees expect more of our organizations and leaders right now—and they aren’t waiting around for us to catch up—queue “The Great Resignation.” Employees expect our support when moments that matter go wrong. The processes we follow and the tools we give our people leaders to handle each moment either build or break trust.
Intense social and political environments: The social justice movements of 2020 upended the status quo and laid the groundwork for even higher employee expectations. In today’s political environment, ER issues arise, and we need to be prepared to manage appropriately and with care. The outside world and inside world have blurred together which gives us the opportunity now to recommit to the fundamental processes needed to improve employee relations in the here and now.
Demand for transparency around investigations: We’ve seen that employees want to work in organizations they trust. If we aren’t building that, they won’t stay. As a matter of fact, they are flocking to organizations that put values such as transparency, fairness and inclusion into action. They are watching how investigations are run. They are noticing whether the outcomes are fair and equitable. Only 43% of organizations in our survey indicated they follow a required process for investigations. The absence of a structured investigation process can have far-reaching implications for organizations because thorough and consistent investigations are central to building trust with employees.
What are key areas that companies can focus on to help decrease ER-related issues? Employee relations issues should be regarded with the utmost importance. Through our research at HR Acuity, we have uncovered three key factors in strong employee relations programs:
Greater transparency: We’ve seen through recent events how important it is for companies to embrace a culture of transparency and rigorous honesty. In order to maintain company balance, a thorough understanding of decision-making and processes is critical for employees to feel empowered and safe. Reporting to employees on a regular basis is one way that companies can connect with teams and ensure both accountability and transparency.
Better protocol and procedures: Companies need to create and adhere to not only HR protocols but also employee relations and investigations. With a need to create more inclusive and equitable workplaces, proper procedures need to become mandatory in order to create an environment that is safe and transparent. Over the past few years we’ve been in a transition period with regard to ER, but now is the time to seize the moment and achieve elevation to transform protocol into standardized practices.
Adopt a case management system: Empowering people leaders with best practices and tools to manage ER issues is a present need in the workplace. Documentation needs to be even tighter. Without the basics working on autopilot, there is no time left for training waves of new people leaders, identifying potential hotspots, and proactively mitigating harmful trends. Certainly, there is no time left for gathering and analyzing feedback that can elevate our function and improve our impact. Therefore, it is critical to implement a case management system. Only 47% of organizations use a system to store documentation related to employee relations and investigations. This means organizations continue to store this data using methods that can lead to increased litigation risks, compromise consistency and security, and provide little opportunity for reporting insights.
Grit Daily: What were your top 3 findings in this years’ annual Benchmark Survey? (How has Covid impacted it and are there any marked differences from this year and pre-Covid?)
Deb Muller: In our 6th Annual Benchmark Survey we found that lack of process and disclosures have stalled trust and transparency in the workplace. Out of 155 US-based organizations that we surveyed, only 43% of respondents are using structured processes for conducting investigations in 2021. Additionally, only 17% of organizations now share aggregated, anonymous investigation / employee relations data with employees, eroding employee trust.
We also found that Covid-19 eclipsed previous employee issues stemming from political and social movements. The pandemic caused a dramatic drop-off of using required processes. The majority of respondents (85%) attributed increases in case volumes in 2021 due to pandemic-related issues.
Additionally, as mentioned above, it is important for companies, regardless of size, to embrace and adopt technology to manage employee relations cases systematically and transparently. Fewer than half of respondents (47%) use a system to store documentation related to employee relations and investigations. These organizations use methods that prevent consistency, lack security and make it difficult to leverage data analytics for insights that drive business decisions. Now is the time to utilize new technology in an effort to navigate employee issues and improve relations throughout companies.
Grit Daily: What are your thoughts surrounding the recent trend of unionization at companies, of all types?
Deb Muller: In today’s social and political climate, employees are seeking fairness and transparency. Employee expectations are high and, as a result, if organizations are not willing to come to the table ready to talk and implement best practices, they will go elsewhere – queue union organizers. Employees now have platforms to discuss issues stemming from sexual harassment to racial discrimination. This new era of work demands rigorous honesty and openness, which is why more and more employees are seeking unionization from their companies. On the other hand, however, it is important to recognize that the current workforce does not have much knowledge regarding unionization – which can become problematic for companies attempting to manage this type of action. This is going to be a fascinating moment in time for us to watch in regard to employee relations and how organizations manage a constantly-evolving workforce.