Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Are Line Managers the NEW Employee Relations Managers?

I have been asked the same question several times over the last few weeks.  The question goes something like this:
In moving from a more transactional HR model to one that is more strategic, how does HR handle all the Employee Relations issues?

Here is my answer...tell your employees to behave themselves.  LOL

This question has come up in our "Becoming an Effective Business Partner Workshops."  It is such a good question.  The transactional HR activities still have to be done.  Employees have to be paid and benefits have to be administered.  Employee issues have to be addressed.

Obviously, a HR transformation is not something that happens overnight.  It's definitely a journey that takes time for everything to fall into place.  Granted, it is a deliberate journey, but a journey none the less.  It is very difficult to be strategic when you are constantly putting out fires.

During the journey we do the usual tasks like:

  1. Assess the workload and type of work performed by HR to understand what needs to stay in-house and what can be effectively outsourced.
  2. Skill sets of existing HR professionals need to be examined and matched with organizational needs and balanced with career goals of the HR professional.  
  3. Educate and communicate to the business what will be different and what types of business issues HR will be assisting with.
  4. Align HR strategy with organizational strategy

I think what gets forgotten is the defining of the role of HR and the role of line management and what that looks and feels like in the organization.  It's hard to get any work done, much less strategic work if line managers are still coming to HR for approval and as a sounding board for routine issues like attendance, tardiness and simple disciplinary write ups.  It's a cultural shift, going from "you have to run all decisions past me," to one of "autonomy within these parameters."

I have seen larger companies, where it makes sense going to a shared services model even for Employee Relations issues where routine issues are handled immediately and more complex issues are escalated up to the appropriate person.

I happen to think it's time for line managers to be responsible for their own talent.  HR needs to let go of some control so we can do bigger and better things...like hiring the right people on the front end so we can reduce ER issues!

What are your thoughts?  Are you ready to cut those ER cords yet?


Unknown said...

I wish it was that easy, in today's world of significant legal issues where pretty much breathing constitutes an ADA accommodation I have yet to see any managers willing, or even focused enough to handle ER issues. I would love to pass the baton but until there becomes a significant shift in training upcoming managers on responding, triage-ing, and investigating employee relations issues (and very few even large companies do this well) it will continue to land on HR's shoulders. Now a COE or Shared Services model can work given enough executive support so that is something, but HR will probably still own this for the foreseeable future, for good or for bad. IMHO

Unknown said...


Sorry you couldn't make it to last night's meeting. Hopefully I will see you next time.

I agree with you the more difficult issues must be handles by HR, I was thinking more of the routine procedure based issues that take a ton of HR time. I agree with you that managers should never be responsible for FMLA or ADA, due to the legal ramifications.

thanks as always for reading and participating in the discussion-