I wonder at times if companies understand or care about the risk employee issues pose to the organization. I have worked in organizations where nothing got settled at the company level and they were happy to pay people off. I have also worked for organizations that had a heart attack when the most benign concerns were raised for fear of litigation.
The point most companies miss is there are levels to the escalation of an employee concern. If you are not careful you are likely to miss a window of opportunity where you could have resolved it company-side. Furthermore, you have to be keenly aware of what goes unsaid. They may not vocalize an issue, but maybe there is a change in temperament, an increase in absences, unusual silence in meetings- all of these things are non-verbal cues that something has gone awry and needs your attention.
Where are we missing the mark?
All too often, employees feel like they have nowhere to discuss a concern in the organization where they can say what they feel and not be scrutinized or in fear of losing their jobs. If they go to their manager the concern is they may lose their jobs. If it is about treatment by the organization the fear is retaliation for raising any claims. I’m sure you are saying in your head “that’s not legal” or “we have a non-retaliation policy.” As a fellow practitioner, you know I know that your retaliation policy and/or the company sentiments about the legality of an employee issue is about as iron-clad as an abused person getting a restraining order against their abuser; the restraining order is merely a formality and the abuser can still get close enough to kill the victim.
If there are no checks and balances for how issues are resolved and if there aren’t multiple levels of conflict mediation in your organization- it is likely employees will pass go your internal process and collect $200 or whatever the courts deem reasonable given the nature of the issue. This is all about perception and practice. If you have multiple outlets where employees can resolve concerns with the knowledge that it will be taken seriously, investigated, and resolved with no repercussion to the employee- you will undoubtedly catch issues before it is too late.
Of late, I have heard some sickening reports from employees who were being treated unfairly and had no place where they felt safe to report the concerns in their organization. This is not only unsettling, but a dangerous and unethical way of conducting business in 2014.
I offer up some advice for those of you struggling with managing your employee relations load:
1) Review your internal conflict resolution channels regularly for effectiveness, utilization, and application.
2) Train your leadership to be aware of both verbal and non-verbal cues related to possible employees issues.
3) Be sure that your policies around employee relations are practiced consistently. Any perception that you handle conflicts or issues inconsistently gives the perception that the company cannot be trusted.
4) When in doubt, center yourself. As an HR practitioner, it is easy to lean towards protecting the organization first. However, sometimes the organization is at fault and while you want to still protect them- the employees need some protection too. Don’t lose sight of this fact.