Editors Note: This is a guest post written by David Bates, Managing Director of Workforce Guardian. His opinions are his own.
Australian workplaces are changing rapidly, and the way we manage employees needs to change too.
When you become aware of an employee-related issue in your workplace, what’s your first port of call? For most employers it’s a member of their HR Team (or the person who performs HR functions along with a huge range of other tasks!). We assume that ‘HR’ will ‘handle’ the matter and that all will be well with the world – or at least we hope so.
But our workplaces are changing: more and more employees are aggressively asserting their ‘rights’ and it’s easier than ever for aggrieved employees to lodge costly and time-consuming claims against their employer. So it’s more important now than ever before to change the way we manage our staff.
The key is to begin the transition from old-practice ‘human resources’ (HR) to best-practice ‘employment relations’ (ER). Making this transition is easier than you think and it starts by understanding the key differences between these two very different approaches to people management.
Traditional HR is reactive – we wait for a problem to arise then deal with it as best we can. In stark contrast, ER is proactive and focussed on the effective and efficient avoidance of problems in the first place. Let’s take workplace bullying for example. In the HR world, we wait for an employee to bring a claim, investigate it and then take appropriate action. In the ER world we develop policies and procedures in consultation with employees, we implement and communicate these and then follow them up with regular training in an effort to reduce the likelihood of bullying taking hold in our workplace. This not only reduces employer liability, it reassures our staff that our business is a great place to work.
HR often involves ad-hoc decision making that results in vastly inconsistent processes and outcomes. Over time – and often very quickly – HR practices fall out of step with the employer’s broader objectives. ER is very different. A good ER officer will ensure absolute alignment between the goals of the employer and the management of the employer’s personnel. In turn, this creates transparency, consistency and certainty for both the employer and their employees. Ultimately, everyone knows where they stand and everyone will be pulling in the same direction.
HR practices can all too often become akin to therapy – we counsel employees rather than expertly coach them to solve problems and overcome challenges. A good ER practitioner understands the difference between professional empathy and a comforting cuddle (we don’t recommend cuddles – plenty of possible claims there too!). While we should always encourage employees to speak openly and honestly about their concerns, ER experts will ensure any information provided by the employee is effectively used to identify solutions to whatever problems may have arisen. After all, our people managers are there to keep things on track and protect our most valuable and expensive resource.
Old-practice HR frequently focusses on the individual employee to the exclusion of all else. But how can we achieve personal and business objectives if we only focus on the first when dealing with employees on a 1-1 basis. Best-practice ER maintains a focus on the ultimate outcome for both the employer and the employee. For example, it is counter-productive to provide reassurance and personal support to an employee and then put them back into the same situation that caused them to seek assistance in the first place. A bigger-picture focus is essential.
Lastly, it should come as no surprise that traditional HR practices are often very expensive and resource-intensive. It’s certainly a lot more costly and time-consuming to deal with problems, claims and conflicts as and when they arise as opposed to consistently managing employee performance in line with the company’s broader direction of travel. Good ER practices are a far more cost-effective way of ensuring your people are performing to the very best of their ability and maximising productivity. Equally as important, happy employees are less likely to resign and leave you with all of the difficulties usually associated with recruitment.
Making the transition from HR to ER is straight-forward and well worth your time and effort. Most large organisations are already evolving in this way, some without even realising it.
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