If we are going to successfully support employees, we need to meet them where they are. This means taking employee’s needs into consideration when creating policies and programs. Working in HR, we sometimes become chained to our desks. When we get too focused on all these office and desk-related tasks, we sometimes forget to spend time figuring out what our employees really need. To be effective in our role as HR professionals, we need to meet employees where they are, so we can create policies and programs that support our workers.
Understand company culture
Company culture is more than the mission and vision statements on the first few pages of your employee handbook. While company owners may view company culture one way, it can be a whole different thing when you start talking to employees. Make time in your schedule to interact with employees. For example, if you work in a centralized HR department for a company with multiple sites, use your time wisely when visiting other locations. If you are at a location for a meeting, plan for some extra time to walk around. Learn employees’ names and interests, so you can build a good relationship with them. This will help lay the foundation for more honest communication.
Pay attention to what employees are saying about benefits and policies. If you get a lot of complaints about a particular policy or a change in benefits, do not simply dismiss it as whiny employees. Understand company demographics, so you can figure out what types of benefits will best meet your employees’ needs. For example, if you own a coffee shop that employs a lot of students, consider educational benefits. If your workforce tends to have more working parents, you may want to up your family leave and offer schedule flexibility.
Create policies that address how employees work
There are many employment laws and regulations we must abide by when drafting company policies. As HR professionals, we are often tasked with being compliant while also creating a policy that fits with how the company does business. Sometimes when we write a policy that only reflects the minimum legal requirements, we neglect to put a policy in place that adequately reflects how our employees work.
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Take meal break policies for example. Here in California we have quite detailed requirements for meal breaks. The law requires that the meal break be at least 30 minutes. While a company will be in compliance with the law if their policy sets breaks at 30 minutes, it may be better for your company to give employees more. If you have adequate break room space and a lot of employees who bring lunch to work, 30 minutes might be sufficient. If a lot of your employees go off-site for lunch, giving employees an hour might be better. Do not just settle for the minimum requirements without understanding how the policy will reflect how your employees work.
Support employees on technology changes
Figuring out what types of training programs address skills gaps is another way to meet employees needs where they are. Nowhere is this more apparent than with technology in the workplace. Technology seems to be changing the workplace faster than we keep up with it. In HR, this means we often throw new technology out there without taking the time to make sure employees understand how to use it.
I have several friends who are teachers, and they have all told me about their struggles with the push to get more technology into classrooms. One of the things they noticed is that schools tend to throw technology at teachers with the expectation that they will just figure it out. While some teachers are comfortable with technology and are able to adapt, others struggle. Meeting employees where they are does not mean avoiding technology that could improve work processes. What it does mean is figuring out what training is needed and providing it.
Technology changes can be especially challenging for older workers, so if your workforce is older, meeting employees where they are may involve training in basic computer skills as well as setting aside enough time for one-on-one training when implementing new technology. Workplaces and how we do things are constantly evolving, so it is important to meet employees where they are in order to continue to develop them.