In myHR Partner’s 20-plus years, we’ve noticed a pattern: Very few small businesses have a professional designated to oversee employee relations.
Keep in mind, these are focused, driven businesses, helmed by leaders eager to engage and retain their people.
Still, they rarely invest in employee relations. Some attribute this to budget limitations; others, to a perceived lack of need or even unawareness that employee relations is an option for businesses their size.
The irony? Employee relations is the HR subfunction small businesses can’t afford not to have.
BUT FIRST – WHAT IS EMPLOYEE RELATIONS EXACTLY?
When it comes to understanding employee relations, Forbes hit the nail on the head: “…for something so critical to business operations, [employee relations’ definition] can be irritatingly vague and general.”
Many hear employee relations and envision discipline, conduct discussions, or policy enforcement. In reality, employee relations is far more comprehensive and development-focused.
A quick primer:
Employee relations is the practice of building positive individual and collective relationships in the workplace in an effort to meet employees’ needs while also helping them succeed in their roles – thereby benefitting your business.
Employee relations does involve performance and behavior matters, but those are just a few slices of the pie. Employee relations keeps businesses compliant with federal, state, and local requirements regarding employee-related policies and processes. It oversees all aspects of company culture and accountability. And it works. Increased employee retention and engagement are common employee relations outcomes.
To that end: The same Forbes story referenced above calls employee relations “an integral aspect of any company or organization if it wants to have long-term success.” We emphatically agree, and add that outcomes are often most favorable when employee relations is outsourced to full-service HR experts – a topic we covered in a recent blog.
In sum, employee relations arms small businesses with traits found among the most enduring and successful companies. Or, as we often say, employee relations has the power to make your people your greatest asset.
BUT IS THIS NECESSARY FOR SMALL BUSINESSES?
Maybe you’re wondering, “But do small businesses really need employee relations?”
Our answer is an emphatic yes!
Here are three reasons small businesses in particular should consider employee relations:
Reason 1: Small businesses are most at risk of outdated policies, lack of policies, or policies that don’t reflect their practices.
Small business owners and leaders are some of the most overextended professionals out there. As such, employee policies – which require considerable thought, care, and expertise – frequently fall by the wayside. It’s an oversight that can and does backfire. Without employee policies, employees often knowingly or unknowingly choose behaviors that go against small businesses’ preferences or goals.
myHR Partner is adept in addressing policy assessment and creation for small businesses. We audit and then update (or, if needed, create from scratch) an employee relations policy customized for each small business we work with. From there we create employee handbooks outlining its details – then roll out the handbook to employees, offering training and guidance to bring its pillars to life.
Reason 2: Small businesses are often unsure of – or scared to – address employee issues.
When engaging small businesses, our myHR Partner team often encounters complex or significant employee issues that have gone unaddressed – sometimes for years. Examples include tenured or longtime employees who are well-liked but not performing key functions of their job. Small business owners often hesitate to discipline or terminate them out of loyalty, or because the workplace is so small that a change would cause social waves.
In scenarios like these, outsourced employee relations is gold.
Outsourced HR for small businesses carefully develops a plan of action. We discuss matters like whether the employer should connect with the employee directly or let myHR Partner serve as a go-between. If the employer chooses to address the matter, we coach them on how to legally and effectively convey concerns; we can even offer exact talking points they can repeat. Our team members join meetings as a neutral third party. (We typically ask to be included in all employee relations conversations so we can help keep issues from becoming larger problems.)
Reason 3: Small businesses sometimes lack regular cycles of feedback from management to employees – and employees to management.
Our team should get shirts printed with “Feedback, feedback, and more feedback”!
Consistent, authentic employee feedback is hugely beneficial to businesses, and small businesses especially. As Forbes put it, “Give people feedback about their actions, and it gives them a healthy opportunity to work toward better behaviors.” Millennials in particular – a growing segment of the workforce – crave routine, scheduled feedback.
And feedback shouldn’t be a one-way street. Small businesses gain immensely by collecting confidential feedback from employees on everything from company policy to culture, and then letting that feedback inform changes. One myHR Partner client, Liquid, partnered with myHR Partner to update its policies around PTO, dress code, and workplace flexibility. The outcome was so positive that now, once a year, every employee at Liquid meets with myHR Partner to provide feedback, concerns, and ideas that are funneled anonymously to Liquid leadership. That feedback has allowed leadership to focus on what is important to their employees and ensures they feel heard.
Of course, offering and collecting honest feedback that’s actionable, and effective feedback isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially in small businesses where relationships can sometimes feel more familial than familiar (and often do include members of the same family!).
It’s all the more reason to lean on an outsourced employee relations team that can serve as an objective resource.
Ready to leverage employee relations for your small business?
myHR Partner brings years of extensive knowledge, skills, experiences, and training in employee relations. We get to know your culture, what your pain points are today, and where you want to grow as a business – then develop ways to move you toward those goals with strong employee relations. Even more, myHR Partner embodies a modern, humanistic approach, providing our clients with the best insights, practices, and guidance to build strong, productive, enduring relationships with their employees.