HR Management & Compliance

Advice for CHROs from the Fifth Annual Employee Relations Benchmark Study

As organizations look to deliver on commitments to improve workplace culture and provide safe, productive, and inclusive employee experiences, employee relations has emerged as a key contributor to business strategy. The findings of HR Acuity’s “Fifth Annual Employee Relations Benchmark Study” reveal current employee relations trends and what they mean for the future of the function, as well as their broader significance to organizations.

This research, sourced from 2020 data, includes more than 125 enterprise organizations in a wide range of industries throughout 2020 and represents 4.5 million employees globally. It provides insights and comparisons to prior years to assess progress and highlight areas in need of operational improvements. Insights from this year’s findings can help you fine-tune your organization’s efforts to effectively manage employee relations.

Employee Relations Scope and Tracking Expand but Call for Better Use of Data Analytics

The role of employee relations professionals continues to expand, due, in part, to events outside of work, such as the pandemic and social and political activism around 2020 events. In fact, the study shows that 71% of employee relations teams now handle policy oversight. Combined with the fact that 86% of employee relations teams are also responsible for data analytics and typically report metrics to senior leadership and legal, it’s clear there is increased value and dependency on insights gleaned from employee-related information to proactively manage issues and influence business decisions.

In fact, 90% of organizations are tracking a wide range of employee relations data. With such great emphasis on analytics, it makes sense that the adoption of employee relations technology is accelerating. Seventy-five percent of organizations use some type of technology to manage the function, and nearly half use solutions specifically designed to address the nuances of documenting and tracking employee issues and investigations.

But it’s important to fully leverage the data. Across the board in 2020, organizations were less focused on advanced analytics, and fewer companies integrated employee relations metrics with data from other functional areas to provide deeper insights. For example, despite widespread commitments from organizations to create more equitable and inclusive workplaces, only 19% of organizations are reporting employee relations metrics to diversity and inclusion leaders.

The Ongoing Impact of 2020 on Employee Relations

The lack of focus on advanced analytics may largely be due to a major shift in focus as employee relations practitioners changed gears to contend with the unrelenting events of 2020. Not surprisingly, the majority of this year’s participants attributed increased case volumes to COVID-19-related changes, social movements, and the political landscape. Additionally, the most reported areas with significant case increases were accommodation requests, social media issues, and discrimination. This lends proof to the idea that events beyond work affect not only employee relations professionals but also entire organizations.

Attention Needed for Critical Employee Relations Processes

The study also exposed backslides in three vital employee relations processes that may have unfortunate consequences for organizations if we ignore the data. The increasing 4-year trendline for required investigation processes saw a 15-point drop, and frequency of investigation training saw a serious decline, which both negatively affect investigation quality.

The upward trend that began following the #MeToo movement in the number of organizations sharing aggregated, anonymous employee relations and investigation data with employees was also reversed; with only 16% of organizations sharing this data, there is much room for improvement. Transparency around employee issues shows employees that these issues are taken seriously and that your organization cares about keeping them safe and minimizing risk.

The third interrupted trend was in employee relations-related resources, which decreased significantly, with no expected change this year. The backbone of employee experience—employee relations—is being stretched. As employee relations roles expand, teams are increasingly tasked with handling return-to-work issues and managing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. In recent years, intentional focus on employee relations processes has helped the function become a driver of strategic business decisions. However, practitioners risk burnout, and organizations risk reputation and brand damage if adequate resources are not re-allocated to employee relations.

Takeaways for CHROs and Employee Relations Leaders

CHROs and employee relations leaders from a wide range of industries can lean on the “Benchmark Study” findings to operationalize best practices and improve how they manage employee issues. Here are the top tips for these leaders to incorporate:

  • Leverage Technology:

Incorporating employee relations technology can help you realize operational efficiencies and greater effectiveness, including the ability to gather meaningful employee-related data.

  • Understand the Stories Your Data Tells:

To eliminate bias, address systemic issues, and determine the effectiveness of efforts in these areas, as you build a safe workplace and a culture of trust, you need to delve into the stories that cross-functional data analytics tell and adjust your plans and programs based on the data.

  • Provide Purposeful Support for Employees:

As your organization reopens and employees return to in-office work or remain remote, you’ll need to consider how to provide ongoing support for these additional employee concerns and develop thoughtful initiatives to address nonwork events to create a workplace that fosters a positive employee experience.

  • Improve Essential Employee Relations Processes:

Reexamine your employee relations strategy, and double down on your commitment to improve these essential processes and the resources necessary to ensure issues will be handled in a timely, thorough, and consistent manner. Support periodic sharing of anonymous employee-related data to build trust with employees, drive accountability, and provide safe and fair workplaces.