Contrary to popular belief, artificial intelligence, or AI, is no longer relegated to science fiction novels and “think pieces” on future innovations. In reality, AI has already arrived and is much more pervasive than most people realize. For HR professionals, the technology is already providing dividends in the areas of recruiting, onboarding, and training procedures by significantly streamlining operations.
As useful as AI is already proving to be, it is already clear that it’s best utilized as an accompaniment to people in the workplace and not a replacement, allowing employees to perform their responsibilities in a much more efficient and effective manner. Despite how the vocal naysayers are reacting, AI’s negative impact on a workforce itself will be negligible, but could instead increase the overall health of many organizations. This is evidenced in the banking industry, where ATMs could have caused job losses but instead streamlined operations and reduced costs, allowing many banks to add staffed locations. This created a positive situation for workers and customers alike
That said, many union leaders are concerned that automation means workers will no longer have the ability to demand higher wages, which will in turn continue the decline in union membership. In the private sector today, just 6.4% of workers belong to a union. Contrast that with 1983, when about 17% of private-sector workers were in a union.
The typical HR professional is being pulled in a thousand different directions at any given moment. In fact, no matter the length of the work day or size of the staff, the work always seems to continue to pile up. This unending accumulation of duties is exactly where AI can positively impact the workplace. Through various platforms, AI automates the bulk of the tedious responsibilities that are important to the organization but a tremendous expenditure of time and effort as well.
In terms of recruiting, an AI-based suite can administer any and all social media efforts, email correspondence and even interview scheduling with an interface that makes it difficult to tell if the communication is coming from a human or machine. Furthermore, all testing and training for onboarding and existing employees can be personalized down to the individual level to adhere to the training method that best fits a particular person. All of this functionality can be synced with current CRM and ERP systems to further streamline the entire process.
Like most technologies, AI will only continue to grow and evolve in the future. As far as impact on overall operations and a workforce are concerned, it will work alongside humans to make them more efficient in their responsibilities. While specific tasks like email correspondence might be automated, it will always be under the watching eye of a human being.
In other words, while on the big screen AI might still enslave humanity in a zombie-like state of perpetual anguish, in reality, it will simply permit us to excel and reach levels we otherwise would never reach. That might not be as dramatic as the Hollywood version, but, at least for HR professionals, AI will undoubtedly be a welcome tool to significantly enhance productivity.
Human resources professionals know that union organizing presents a variety of complex challenges, and many dread their labor relations responsibilities. After all, the process of educating employees on the drawbacks of voting in a union can be taxing, and participating in contract negotiations is nearly always stressful.
However, there’s another way to look at labor relations: as a unique opportunity to develop strong skills in leadership, decision-making, communication, and collaboration through experience that can’t be gained any other way. In fact, some C-suite HR leaders credit their labor relations work as their most important development opportunity, giving them the extra boost in skills they needed to reach the top of their career ladders.
Increased Understanding of Business Strategies
The cost of labor is one of the highest expenses in any organization, and maximizing the use of people to produce the company’s goods and services is a core function of human resources. However, many HR professionals find themselves bogged down in the details of the HR function: managing payroll, performance, and interpersonal conflicts, for example.
For unionized companies, collective bargaining agreements bring focus back to the purpose of HR, as these contracts essentially boil down to an exchange of quality labor for specific compensation and working conditions. Experience with contract negotiations gives HR staff special insight into their larger role, as well as an improved understanding of business strategies that will optimize the company’s success.
When word gets around that there’s interest in unionizing, HR personnel often limit their union avoidance activities to correcting issues that have cropped up with managers’ behavior, application of policies, and similar matters. However, to be truly effective in keeping an organization union-free, smart HR professionals examine all aspects of the business. From basic operations to compensation rates for skilled workers, they look into every available possibility for improving the work environment. This offers an entirely new set of skills to HR staff. Instead of restricting their work to issues directly in their span of control, they learn to develop larger, more integrated solutions that benefit the business as a whole.
Working in HR means you’re regularly dropped in the middle of intense, highly emotional situations. The best HR professionals can handle the stress of these encounters calmly, keeping their own feelings in check while de-escalating tension between others. When labor issues crop up, they tend to be some of the most intense that any HR staff member faces. Greater exposure to labor relations means more practice with this sort of intensity. Before long, you’ll discover that staying composed is second nature for you – an important trait in any executive.
The foundation of any union avoidance strategy is increased communication, and when a union is already present, collaboration is key to maintaining a productive working environment. Working on labor relations issues is an opportunity to become more effective in both communication and collaboration – skills that are very much on display in leaders.
Of course, not every position has exposure to unions and their related concerns, but you can still work toward improving your skills. Participating in high-quality training such as the Union Proof Certification is an excellent first step in taking your career to the next level.
The “war” on wage gaps is raging and for good reason: Large wage gaps have historically existed in the United States based on gender and race, specifically when it comes to women and minorities. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, black men have earned 73 percent of white men’s hourly earnings since 1980, while Hispanic men’s earnings increased from 69 percent to 71 percent of white men’s earnings since 1980. Moreover, women — regardless of their ethnicity or race — have historically lagged behind men, whether in their own race or not. Today, women across the nation still make 76 cents for every $1 men earn.
As a result of statistics like these, pay secrecy has become a significant issue with serious ramifications for violations. That’s why it’s vital to practice effective methods of training management and staff on maintaining professional behavior with regard to keeping pay information confidential, while still abiding by the requirements of the NLRA. Here’s how:
Before communicating what your pay secrecy policies are, make sure you have it in writing. It’s vital to give your management team and staff something solid and concrete to reference should there be any questions. Additionally, ensure that your content is up-to-date. By having clear rules written and current, staff and management can have a better understanding of the company’s stance on pay secrecy and how to act accordingly so that information is kept in a professional manner.
It’s vital that management and staff understand the law to avoid any pay secrecy violations. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 protects employees against pay secrecy and penalizes businesses that violate the law. While it may not cost much to violate the NLRA, a violation (and a history of it) can potentially push employees into organizing into a union and take up union card signing. Union avoidance is possible by communicating the appropriate behavior to have regarding pay secrecy and what the law covers.
Educate your staff that acting irrationally, such as terminating an employee, without getting the facts or going through a defined disciplinary process, especially based on pay secrecy, is not the appropriate behavior. It’s important that they listen to what the situation is first. Businesses can be forced to give employees that were wrongfully terminated the option to get their jobs back, and they also may be required to give them back pay for the entire time they were without the job under the NLRA. Therefore, it’s significant that your staff and managers understand the ramifications of violating the NLRA and what constitutes a violation. Certain states also have their own laws pertaining to pay secrecy, including Colorado, Maine and California, so it’s important to clarify state and local laws regarding pay secrecy as well.
Training your staff and management team to avoid pay secrecy involves communicating the correct information and having a plan in place. By taking these steps, you can be proactive and prevent your employees from being pushed away into union organizing.
When a union has you — and your employees — in its sight, you need to be ready to respond. Union leadership had months to prepare, to start engaging your employees, and to lay the groundwork for a unionization drive. Your business can’t afford to cobble together a strategy once a representation vote is imminent; you need to have a well-thought-out communications game plan. Here are a few tips to help craft your message:
Your labor team needs to communicate with employees during an organizing drive. But before they do, it’s vital to understand that the laws are explicit about what kind of communication is permissible. The team of people working to help keep your company union-free will be in charge of overseeing the message, understanding what is said, to whom and when. Beyond that, the labor team (even if it’s a group of leaders who normally have other primary responsibilities) must know what resources are available to them to help them communicate well. This includes attorneys, persuaders & consultants and those that provide video, web, and eLearning tools dedicated to keeping your company union-free.
So, do your research and know what’s legal as well as what’s recommended for your unique company and workforce ahead of time. Then, when you do have to manage a campaign to keep your company union-free, you’ll be well-prepared.
Next, remember that your supervisors are out every day interacting with employees… making them your best source of information about what’s going on with your workforce. Empower those in supervisory positions and promote positive employee relations by providing confidence-boosting training that helps them understand not only what cannot be said to employees – but what CAN and SHOULD be said during an organizing drive. Supervisors can state that the company is opposed to unionization, highlight the disadvantages of union membership, and point to misleading statements in union propaganda. Supervisors cannot prohibit employees from wearing union buttons or demand to know if they’ve signed a union authorization card. Provide them with the skills they need to conduct meetings with employees, recognize distribution of authorization cards, and implement other targeted communications.
Any team member that is expected to lead and to communicate with employees needs powerful leadership training to avoid mistakes – and Unfair Labor Practice charges – that could lead to fines and penalties for your company, and stress for your management team. This gives you time to prepare your response and make your case to your employees.
Why are your employees even considering joining a union in the first place? If you can answer that question, maybe you can prevent this problem altogether. In a union-free environment, one option is to empower your supervisors to engage employees directly and solicit feedback. If there are consistent grievances, you may have your answer. A more involved option is to organize a “town hall” with executives to speak to employees and even the families of employees directly. This is a slightly more risky idea, but if your leadership is prepared and willing, this can put a more human face on your company.
Finally, your internal processes can include regularly conducted employee engagement or union vulnerability assessments and surveys. When conducted by an outside company, these processes can help upper management gain insight, understanding, and the ability to take action on the right things.
The time to plan your communications strategy is before an organizing drive – not during. Whoever makes up your labor team – be it staff dedicated to this area or communications teams and senior management – needs to sit down and create templates for several key publications: a response to an organizing drive so employees immediately understand that the company is aware and listening, educational information about the effects of unionization and why the company wants to remain union-free, and what to say once an organizing drive has ended (and what it means for the business going forward).
This pre-prepped communications plan applies to company emails and press releases, but if your labor team wants to directly engage and refute union messaging, the best medium can be a website, dedicated to the organizing drive – and addressing only that topic. This kind of site can be created and kept in a “dark” state until it’s needed.
This is where your labor & communications teams earns their keep. Your internal and public communications need to be clear, consistent and positive. Your leadership needs to have the authority to control all management interactions with the media and ensure that no company leaders “wing it” and go off-message. That message needs to state the facts and avoid painting the dispute as bitter or unpleasant. Remember, all you need to communicate is where the company stands and that events are ongoing. Anything else is just noise.
Your message needs to be thoughtful, consistent and constructive. Every communication you release will be picked over by your employees, the union and, depending on the level of coverage, the media. What you say, and how you say it, will reveal a lot about how your organization is weathering the storm and how soon you can get back to business.
Webinars are still considered a winning tactic for countless companies. In fact, recent polls have shown that two-thirds of B2B marketers in the United States consider webinars effective marketing tools. Whether for brand promotion, product introduction or real-time presentations, webinars are only second to videos when it comes to effective content marketing. With this in mind, are these online tutorials still essential for training new employees or engaging with clients? Recent polls and studies say absolutely yes, and e-learning platforms such as Projections continue to soar in global popularity.
According to Percolate, 20 percent of U.S. marketing executives stated that their companies created webinars the previous year. While these video presentations were mainly based on product integration and client fulfillment, a number of webinars were dedicated to training in-house and remote employees across the globe.
According to industry experts, the advent of Internet technologies has made it easier to connect employers and staff for timely and optimal training sessions, through the use of tools such as the following:
Training webinars also incorporate lectures, workshops and e-learning tools that help employees understand a company’s directives and goals. Similarly, client webinars are designed to showcase new products and services, as well as discuss annual reports with existing and potential investors. These interactive services also serve as crucial networking platforms for clients and employees. In fact, webinars can even be used for team-building events that foster greater collaboration between departments.
There are several benefits to using webinars and virtual seminars for training staff. First, companies can save money on face-to-face training sessions for employees. Second, employees are able to freely communicate with all departments, as well as fellow workers. They can ask questions about policies, and share ideas and suggestions to increase productivity and performance. Third, webinars allow in-house and remote employees to access all training materials and documents anytime, and anywhere. Other benefits of employee training webinars include the following: