WHY DO EMPLOYEES VIEW THE HR DEPARTMENT AS THE “POLICY POLICE?”
In the world of company policies and procedures, the HR department is tasked with researching and interpreting federal and state labor laws to determine how these laws will affect the company. The HR department also assists in defining internal policies and procedures regarding attendance, employee conduct, corrective action, paid time off, dress codes, etc., that are created for managers and employees to follow in order to ensure business operation standards and compliance. After the policies and procedures are created, the HR department provides training and/or guidance to managers and employees on what is acceptable and unacceptable in accordance to these policies. Any time there is a breach in company policy, the HR department is consulted with the proper way to handle the breach, which typically results in referencing the company policy language. So, of course the HR department is seen as the policy police. The question is, how do HR departments get away from being labeled as the policy police?
HR Professionals Need to Change the Conversation
As HR consultants, we often find ourselves directing clients to their employee handbook policy language when consulting on an employee relations issue. For example, a manager is unsure how to address a situation with an employee who calls in sick regularly. The manager seeks guidance from the HR department and is told to review the company’s attendance policy regarding excessive absences. Here are some of the questions the HR department asks the manager or employee:
- What does the policy state if an employee has excessive absences?
- Does the employee have any accrued but unused paid time off or sick time available?
- Does the employee notify the appropriate person(s) of the absence(s) within the required time frame?
As HR professionals, we are trained to ask all the right questions to determine what course of action to take but do we properly guide our managers to counsel their employees or do we refer them to the policy and how to discipline them?
What if we change the conversation we have with managers and employees? What if we provide our managers with the necessary tools to counsel employees in specific situations? In the example above, if the manager goes along with the company’s attendance policy and disciplines the employee for excessive absences, does it fix the situation? The answer is usually no. The employee will more than likely continue to call in sick from work until put on final written warning and then maybe the behavior will change. Don’t get me wrong, following the company’s policy is first and foremost. However, if the manager changes the content of the conversation with the employee to find out why the employee is absent all the time (without asking personal or medical information) and provide details of how the absences affect the company, the result may be different.
What questions should HR professionals/managers be asking?
In addition to following company policy, the HR department should be training managers on the right questions to ask and how to counsel employees in order to correct unacceptable behaviors and performance. Below are some helpful conversations and questions for managers to ask:
- Unfortunately, you have been calling in sick regularly and you’ve used all of your accrued PTO. The company values all of their employees and I’m concerned for your well being and want to be sure everything is ok. Is there anything the company can help you with?
- Did something happen while at work that makes you uncomfortable to be here that we should be aware of (sexual harassment, discrimination, workplace violence, altercation with another employee)?
- Do you have an injury or illness that affects your ability to perform the essential functions of your position that we should be aware of?
- Do you have a condition that may be a result of workplace illness or injury, which could be covered under the company’s workers’ compensation plan?
- The company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which can be helpful in many types of personal situations. Would you like the information to access the EAP? (Drugs, alcohol, domestic violence)
How do you “change the conversation?”
During the conversation with the employee, the HR department should provide managers with guidance on how to counsel the employee for the breach in company policy or unacceptable behavior/performance. While it is important for the employee to be disciplined with a Verbal Warning or written warning for the excessive absences, the employee also needs to understand the effects the absences have on the company.
The conversation could go: “It is important that you understand the effects your absences have on the entire department and company. Here are some examples of how it the effects everyone:”
- Other employees within the department are required to take on extra work or work longer hours as a result of your absence, which causes errors, low employee morale and resentment.
- Assigned projects aren’t being completed within the specified time frames; missed deadlines, incomplete projects.
- Client appointments/meetings/calls have to be rescheduled resulting in unhappy clients.
- Clients may seek business elsewhere as a result of inconsistent service, which results in a loss to you and the company.
By changing the content of the conversation with the employee, the manager provides specific details of how the absences not only effect the employee but effect the entire company. As a result, the employee may have a better understanding of why it is important to be present to work and the behavior could be corrected without further action. Or maybe the manager determines the employee needs assistance with a personal situation or medical condition of which he/she was afraid to ask for or to disclose.
As I mentioned, it is very important for the HR department to develop and enforce company policies and procedures. However, it is even more important for the HR department to develop the tools and skills for managers and employees to understand why the policies are in place and what the results are if they aren’t followed. HR is more effective when proper counseling follows proper adherence to company policies and procedures. The HR department may be the policy police… it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
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