Time to Reinvent the Employee Relations Experience

The current pandemic and economic crises will trigger a series of changes as to how we manage and care for our workforce moving forward. As a result, there will be a more significant emphasis on listening and understanding employee needs. One opportunity is how we manage and think about employee relations in our organizations. Not much has changed in employee relations in terms of process, technology, and the overall experience in the past twenty years. If we are serious about the employee experience, we must move from a reactive to a proactive, predictive strategy. This shift will nudge company cultures towards a more contemporary approach of listening to employee concerns and behavior expectations before they become problematic.

The Feedback Loop is Still Broken

People are on a journey when they join an organization. This includes working through a series of “touchpoints” that are a part of the employee life cycle. From how a prospective applicant experiences your careers page to onboarding, development, life events and, at times, managing through conflict or a code of conduct issue. Most employee “touchpoints” are seamless or automated to some degree and a satisfactory resolution is swift. However, the same is not true for Employee Relations matters, nor is there much trust or insight into the process which is frustrating for all concerned parties. Unfortunately, it results in many issues going unreported and unresolved.

We have a broken feedback loop between employees and business leaders. Information about what really goes on in the employee ranks almost never makes its way up to HR and executive leadership. The system is structurally flawed because employees need a safe, trusted channel to convey information – one where there is absolutely no downside for them to share information or seek guidance. According to Emtrain’s 2020 Culture Report, which summarizes 2.5M employee sentiment responses about their workplace, 64% of employees don’t feel confident their manager will take them seriously if they report a concern. This implies that 64% of your workforce won’t share information or provide feedback to management. Therefore, the feedback loop is broken. There are numerous dynamics going on between employees that company leadership will never know about until it escalates into an obvious, more critical problem.

But this current economic crisis is going to force employers to reinvent how they manage Employee Relations. How we navigate through rough times will become our brand and how people identify us, which has long-lasting business implications.

Adopting New Communication and Listening Strategies

We need a neutral communication channel, where employees feel safe getting information and guidance on how to solve conflicts with co-workers or managers. While some issues or concerns require the help of the HR team, there are many smaller issues that employees could resolve on their own if they have some trusted information and guidance. If we had a system that helped employees solve their issues and questions at the earliest possible moment while providing employers aggregated analytics of the number and nature of the questions and issues presented — it would be a win/win. People would get a better workplace experience and HR and leadership teams would have the analytics and insights they need to be more targeted and strategic in solving problems. 

For a listening strategy to be effective, people leaders need to know what they are listening for. Technology can make us smarter and alert us earlier for signs of potential trouble. Data can provide us with trend information and identify patterns of behavior that are undesirable. You can map all bad workplace culture outcomes to a set of early behaviors and then you can use listening strategies to identify when, where, and how much those behaviors exist in your workforce. For example, a culture that lacks integrity, or respect or inclusion, there are early behavioral indicators that correlate with each of those bad outcomes.

The 2020 recession will accelerate our adoption of new strategies to manage employee relations issues. This will be our first recession in the age of social media that affects people who grew up in a feedback culture and who are used to sharing their experience in real-time on social media. If employers do not optimize for a process that listens for and addresses employee concerns at the earliest stage, they’ll be defending bigger culture problems long term. In my mind, it is time for this important paradigm shift to demonstrate care and empathy and ensure the values on the company website are consistent with the actual employee experience. 

Susan Lovegren is the Former Executive VP and Chief People Officer at Medallia. Susan is a Silicon Valley veteran with a unique take on employee relations and employee listening strategies. Learn more about listening strategies in her conversation with Janine Yancey, founder and CEO of Emtrain on Linkedin Live #AlwaysLearning

employee experienceemployee relations
Susan Lovegren
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