The Importance of an Evolving HR Conversation

The truth of the world is that employers often take their employees for granted. This isn’t done deliberately, it just happens, particularly with bigger companies with a large workforce. It isn’t always easy to keep track of employee engagement and happiness and make sure that everyone’s needs are being met. That’s also not the point.

HR policies exist to address the needs of people working in a company while also providing a set of rules and guidelines to maintain fair practices throughout the workplace. Think of it like a bill of rights for a company.

Years ago, many HR policies were written to support companies, the foundation being ‘you have a job, be grateful’, rather than actually offering strategies to help companies and employees manage their relationship. They used to be a ‘set and forget’ policy, often referred to only when strictly necessary. Luckily, this is no longer the case — or at least, not generally! As the workplace has evolved, company policies have changed as well, particularly HR policies, which impact directly on the element that makes a company function: its people.

Getting honest feedback from those directly affected helps ferret out any real world issues in the HR policy. This is particularly the case if the the policy has been designed in isolation. Questions can come up that weren’t even considered during the creation of the policy.

For example:

  • Are there different interpretations to a rule?
  • Does the policy not reflect the true needs of employees?
  • Has something been completely missed?
  • Is there something in the policy that isn’t necessary at all?

Even policies written after extensive research and polling can benefit from a regular check up by those under its purview. The big picture can get lost if people are focused purely on the details of how a company should run its employees.

Opening a dialogue about HR policies can open undiscovered doors. It allows employees to engage with a company on a very basic level, providing insight into day-to-day aspects that might not have been considered when the policy was written. Further, it allows for policy makers to get a better understanding of the work-life balance that staff needs. A company that invests in its employees in this fashion also has a better chance of holding onto those employees in the long run, raising talent retention rates. To quote at length from Talent Culture:

“People stay with companies they value. The more an employee is allowed and encouraged to engage in job, team, and company efforts, the more she sees the value. People stay with managers they trust. The more managers and employees engage in continuous communication about expectation, the more trust develops in their relationship. People stay with companies that offer opportunities for personal, even professional growth.” — 5 Links Between Talent Management and Employee Engagement, TalentCulture

Giving employees a chance to discuss the policies that directly affect their lives is a sure fire way to get them engaged with the company, but more than that it provides some key aspects that any HR policy should have:

  1. Clarity — making sure that everyone really understands the policy; its rules, consequences, the purpose, and the rights listed in it.
  2. Work-Life Balancing — ensuring that the policy is actually meeting the needs of both the company and its employees.
  3. Evolution & Adaptation — allowing that the policy reflects changes in the workplace and workforce as those changes come about.
  4. Talent Management — allows management take the overall pulse of employee engagement and thus head off recruitment or retention issues in the long run.

To quote a colleague:

“A company should create a safe and open space for their employees to make mistakes, discuss policies and feel significant within the company in order for the business to strive to its full potential. Treat your employees well and it will echo in service towards your clients.”

Recently, AQ Services had an HR day to discuss the latest HR policies and get a better understanding of whether it was meeting the needs of our people. Questions like “What does human resource excellence mean to you?” and “Describe what you consider key to a healthy work-life balance for yourself” allowed teams to discuss whether they thought the policy was addressing the vital issues that it sought to.

It was more than that, however, this was our first step in the right direction. In 2014, AQ had a complete structural overhaul, and as a result things are now done vastly differently to what they were before. This required a new policy, and because we are who we are, that policy was open for discussion. After some initial confusion and doubt about what it is that we were meant to be discussing, we realised that this was a great opportunity for us to air our opinions about the policy. To quote one of our team:

“It is great to see that employees have a voice over HR policies. This gets us engaged, and is a good way for management to discover what we feel important.”

It wasn’t just the negatives that were discussed, although several pointed concerns were raised, but also the strengths of the policy. Implemented in January 2016, this new policy was based on experiences of the past and addresses some of the issues that came up. As a result, the new policy has made big — positive — changes to its parental leave scheme as well as bringing on board new options such a work-from-home option and other things.

There is a downside to making an HR policy subject to conversation and feedback, of course. It’s always possible that as a result of a dialogue no actual decisions or rules are ever implemented, making it a useless document that hinders more than helps. ‘Too many chefs in the kitchen will ruin the soup’ and all that.

I still maintain, however, that with the correct approach, having a system for feedback on company policies — particularly HR — can be a great thing, especially in this modern day and age where the workplace is a fluctuating thing and we are no longer defined simply by the location we work, or the people we work with.

Ultimately, it’s up to management to steer the ship, but a little bit of commentary from the sailors isn’t going to hurt; in fact, not hearing from those who man the deck and hoist the sails — (and I’m sorry I’ve started on this metaphor) — is likely to drive a company into stormy weather.


About the Author

Olwen van Dijk is a digital marketer and business development executive at AQ Services International

Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn

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