An internal HR audit has the same goal as any other audit: to scrutinize business operations to ensure best practices are in place and consistently applied. Of course, an HR audit is exclusively focused on HR practices, offering an opportunity to identify deficiencies in employment policies and their application, employment-related documentation, and compliance with relevant employment law. Proactively auditing HR practices is the most effective method of addressing small issues before they have a chance to take up time and money that would be better spent elsewhere.
If you haven’t conducted a full review within the last couple of years, let this guide serve as a wake-up call to making an audit part of your Engagement Plan for the coming year.
The job of a Human Resources, Employee Relations or Labor Relations professional is often reactive: investigating employee relations issues, responding to a compliance violation, or searching through poorly maintained records when a legal claim is made. However, it is far more satisfying to take a proactive approach and address small problems before they become major headaches. HR auditing sets businesses up for success, establishing basic HR practices. Audits systematically review whether and how policies are being applied, ensuring consistency among staff members and compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.
Other benefits of HR audits include:
• Company-wide adoption of best practices
• Identification of potential processes improvements
• Reduction of errors and employee complaints
• Proactive preparation for government investigations
• Reduced likelihood of fines for noncompliance with employment regulations
• Possible reduction in insurance expenses
• Improved utilization of legal budgets
• Increased buy-in from managers regarding HR policies and practices
• Reduced likelihood of successful union organizing
Launching an HR audit is a major endeavor, and it is important to secure the appropriate resources. These subject matter experts are particularly helpful:
Legal Counsel – The results of an audit can be discoverable in future legal proceedings. Consult legal counsel for advice on protecting the business.
Department Leaders – Enlisting the help of department leaders saves time. They can point you towards the relevant records and explain how policies are applied from day to day.
Once your team is assembled, outline the areas you will audit and develop a list of audit questions. Common inquiries for HR audits include the following…
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.
Creating a culture that produces happy, engaged and satisfied workers is essential for successful companies. In addition to the fact that workers in these categories are more productive and efficient than their counterparts, they’re also less likely to organize into unions, which can save employers time, money and stress. With this in mind, here are the top five ways to keep your employees happy and decrease the incentive to turn to a union.
It’s better to be pro-worker than it is to be anti-union. By approaching staying union-free from a defensive position, you communicate that you’re “afraid” of the idea of unionization. A better approach sends a message that employees are part of the solution and that their opinions and feelings matter. With this in mind, the first and most effective step to staying union-free is to act in a way that builds up your employees and their role in creating a union-proof culture, in all facets of your business. This simple method will go a long way toward keeping your workplace union-free!
Believe it or not, many employees don’t fully understand what they’ll give up by unionizing. In your employee handbook and new hire orientation, make sure you educate employees on your union-free operating philosophy and the reasons to stay union-free. Better yet, hold regular training sessions for both employees and managers on the topic. Be open to questions, even the tough ones! Generally, non-unionized workplaces have fewer legal issues, a more cohesive feel, and greater flexibility than unionized ones. They’re also free of the substantial added cost unionization creates.
Communication is a critical protection against unionization. When communication is effective, it flows unrestricted from employees to managers and back. When it’s not, though, issues arise and employees consider unionization. Take a look at your company and consider how you can improve and modernize your communication.
Can you add more relevant forms of communication via online platforms or video? Should you be holding more regular meetings to listen to and resolve employee issues? By streamlining communication, you mitigate many issues that may eventually lead to unionization.
Every company will occasionally need to make a decision that’s unpopular with employees. The ones that don’t explain these decisions, however, are at risk of unionization. Remember that employees all want to feel like they’re part of the solution, and leaving them out of critical decision making or thought processes doesn’t achieve this end.
Instead, take the time to explain unpopular decisions to your employees. Consider holding “listening sessions” where they can air their grievances. If the grievances are actionable, the company’s CEO or HR department can work to resolve them. This simple step helps ensure employee happiness and discourages the formation of unions.
A company’s supervisory and managerial staff are some of its most critical. In addition to collaborating closely with workers, these staff members also field complaints and negative feedback. To prevent unionization and ensure cohesion throughout the company, it’s critical that these complaints be dealt with effectively and completely from within the company. This helps prevent employees feeling the need to form a union to ensure their own protection.
While unionization is a complex process for companies and their workers, these five simple tips can help prevent it from becoming a reality. At the end of the day, employee satisfaction is based on the feeling that they are an integral part of the company’s success, and that their opinions and concerns are valued by upper management. By taking steps to foster this mindset in your workplace, you create a cooperative environment that resists unions naturally, rather than a strict and fragile one that is forcing employees to stay union-free.
Millennials prize work-life balance above all other employment-related goals. They’re also more likely to have a spouse or partner in the workforce than any other generation, so flexibility is key to keeping them engaged in their work. Therefore, many unions that seek to recruit younger workforces will emphasize their ability to obtain generationally-important benefits from employers. However, savvy businesses know that they can provide the specific benefits their employees desire, benefits that both engender loyalty and demonstrate responsiveness to its workers’ needs.
Instead of dividing paid leave into sick time and vacation days, employers can transition into a paid time off policy that places all time off in one PTO “bucket.” This time off policy allows employees to take time off when they need it without having to account for how they’re spending their time off. On the flip side, today’s workers, those that are highly engaged and inspired by their work, can have a tendency not to take that time off. To make sure that your most dedicated employees don’t experience burnout, allow a very limited amount PTO to carry over to the next calendar year.
Most employees carry smartphones during vacations and time off, but your manager and leaders should avoid contacting them unless it’s a genuine emergency. Support a work culture that allows employees not to check or answer their emails during their off-hours. Businesses who encourage employees to take a true vacation are rewarded with more productive and loyal employees.
Over three-quarters of married Millennials also have a spouse that works full-time. So companies that can provide flexible schedules, partial telecommuting, four 10-hour shifts per week or other attractive options can attract better talent and cultivate loyalty among employees.
Even if your company does not fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, you will want to offer leave options to new parents. Research indicates that paid maternity leave had no adverse effect or even a positive effective on businesses 91 percent of the time. Offering paid leave also increased the chance that an employee would return to work after the birth or adoption of a child. Top tech companies who compete for talent know the benefits of offering paid parental leave: They already offer some of the most generous packages in the United States. Remember that even your employees without children may need time off to care for a family member, parent, or spouse.
Sometimes companies that offer work-life-affirming benefits find that few workers regularly use them. It’s natural that some businesses have busy periods where employees really can’t take time off. But workers should balance these busy times by taking more time off during the year. To demonstrate that the company supports this balance, your managers and leaders should exemplify work-life balance in their lives. Not only will regular time off increase productivity, in management but it should also assuage worker fears that they’ll experience retribution if they take regular time off. Having regular discussions about taking time off conveys that the company cares about team members, making them less likely to become disgruntled during busy periods.
On-site daycare, flexible telecommuting, and other benefits allow employees a chance to balance their work lives while focusing on their personal well-being. Because so many parents are part of two-income households, companies can’t expect that a stay-at-home spouse will be responsible for covering minor family emergencies. Companies such as American Express have seen success by offering their workers even more flexibility to handle minor family problems, coupled with providing backup care services that employees can use.
Already there are more Millennials in the workforce than Generation X, and within the next few years, they’ll overtake Boomers as well. For this reason, businesses should consider now how they can support their younger workforce and demonstrate that a union-free company is better for everyone. Companies who ignore workplace flexibility and work-life balance risk creating an inviting environment for union organizing. Any employer working to build a union-proof culture knows that it’s far more cost-effective to retain the best workers, rather than having to recruit, hire and train repeatedly.
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.