You are driving home after a long day at work and a few things are nagging at you. There was that anonymous hotline call from an employee claiming that she and others on her team were not paid enough for the work they did last week. Then, there were the two men you saw standing in the parking lot who looked like employees who had been terminated months ago. And, finally, you can’t get the image out of your mind of the employee who has always been so upbeat and engaged, but has recently been alone every time you see him and has seemed withdrawn.
By the time you get home, you have convinced yourself that the hotline call was nonsense – your company pays better than anyone in the industry. And, those former employees were probably just there for lunch with an old friend. That withdrawn employee must be having marital issues.
You head to work the next day and decide to focus on the “real” HR problems you are facing. You need to conduct a pay equity analysis, put together a comprehensive diversity and inclusion strategy, and completely overhaul your company’s benefit plans. Did you make the right call?
No. In today’s workplace, full of large, complex issues that demand attention from HR professionals, it is tempting for HR to “let it go” when it comes to what appear to be the minor problems. It is not that HR professionals are consciously ignoring employee concerns, rather, it is more a matter of busy people being pulled in too many directions, with limited resources, and the need to prioritize. The problem, of course, is that the minor concerns can become major headaches almost overnight. They can escalate quickly to become not only the highest priority for a human resources professional, but also an organization’s worst nightmare from a financial and reputational standpoint.
For example, that hotline call could quickly become a wage and hour class action that could include hundreds of your employees and could cost your organization hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those former team members hanging out in your parking lot could be there to drum up union support, not for lunch. And, that previously outgoing, now withdrawn employee, could be a potential perpetrator of workplace violence. The stakes are high.
Does this mean that HR professionals need to drop everything whenever they have a “hunch” about employee concerns? Not necessarily, but you should pay attention to such warning signs that can spell trouble.
When you see these signs or others like them, are you taking the time to ask questions and thoroughly investigate concerns? Human resources professionals are great observers of people and behavior. But, are we always looking to connect the dots; to integrate all of our morale and sensing data points into a comprehensive picture? Are we taking the time to present a holistic morale assessment to the executive team? Are we doing everything we can to demonstrate that we know what is happening with our employees?
My twenty plus years of working with human resources issues has taught me many valuable lessons. One that has stuck with me is that if something doesn’t seem quite right, it generally isn’t. No matter the gravity of the issue, our job is to protect the company and its most valuable asset – its employees.
Your gut instinct supported by the knowledge gained through research, data, and timely investigations, is a powerhouse of information for any company. So, trust your gut or not? The answer depends on many factors . . . but don’t just ignore your gut without making a conscious decision to do so.
Stephanie Hall Prewitt is Executive Director of Foundations Human Resources Consulting in Lexington, Kentucky, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fisher Phillips labor and employment law firm. Stephanie can be contacted at 859-286-1100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.