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How to Get Answers from Human Resources

Sharlyn Lauby by Sharlyn Lauby   August 12

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As a human resources professional, I’ve seen employees struggle to get answers to their questions. Not because HR pros are trying to keep information from employees. But because employees don’t know who handles what in HR.

This isn’t a problem that’s unique to new hires. Employees will have questions about special situations that aren’t typically spelled out in the company policy. In addition, the questions don’t have to be complicated. Long-term employees who have forgotten where that employee handbook is located often have questions about benefits they’ve never used before. Employees want answers from human resources. And not getting those answers is distracting employees from their work.

What’s needed is a way for organizations and employees to effectively and efficiently handle employee requests. Yes, please notice I included employees because they play a role in this process too. Here’s what each party can do to improve communications.

Human resources can:

  • Create a knowledge base that employees can access 24/7/365. Consider adding a FAQ component to policies and procedures that addresses commonly asked questions. Employees will have questions that don’t necessarily need to be written into the policy but they’re good questions. Use the knowledge base to post those answers.
  • Have a central point of contact for questions. Make it easy for employees to ask questions. They only need to know one thing - how to reach the central point of contact. Once that is established, HR needs to have a process for routing requests to the proper person for response.
  • Commit to a response. HR’s credibility takes a hit when employees don’t feel they can get a timely response. In my career, I’ve always told employees that I can’t promise the answers they want to hear, but I will give them an answer. And within a reasonable amount of time. Make it a goal to provide responses within XX hours or days, depending upon your operation. Then use the goal to measure your success.

Employees can:

  • Try to find the answer themselves. I totally get it. When I want answers, I can be more than a little impatient. But realistically speaking, human resources is juggling several priorities – no different from anyone else. Look at the resources you’ve been provided: handbooks, policy manuals, and the electronic knowledge base to see if the answer already exists. 
  • Seek clarity and understanding. If you have the question, others probably do too. On behalf of HR pros everywhere, let me say that sometimes we think we were clear when we wrote the memo, but maybe we weren’t. Don't be afraid to ask if something isn’t clear and keep asking questions until it makes sense to you. 
  • Tell HR what they do well. No news is good news isn’t a management philosophy. If HR puts together a chart/graph/video/whatever that clearly explains something, let them know. The feedback is helpful for the next time HR is asked to create an employee communication.

Over the years, I’ve seen employees get very angry with HR because they couldn’t drop everything to handle a request. And HR get frustrated because employees think they have nothing else better to do than to drop everything and respond. Both have the same goal: to create a communication process that allows employees to get good answers in a timely fashion. It also allows human resources to give good responses quickly and efficiently.

When employees and HR commit to the same ground rules, communication becomes easier and more effective. It does mean that everyone needs to take initiative for their role in the process and hold themselves personally accountable for delivering results. The good news is when the process is perfected, everyone gets to focus on the work…which is a big win for the company.

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Sharlyn Lauby
Sharlyn Lauby

Sharlyn Lauby is the HR Bartender and president of ITM Group Inc., a South Florida based training and human resources consulting firm focused on helping companies retain and engage talent. Sharlyn sees human resources as a strategic partner - the marketing department for a company’s internal clients rather as administrative. During her 20+ years in the profession, she has earned a reputation for bringing business solutions to reality. Prior to starting ITM Group, Sharlyn was vice president of human resources for Right Management Consultants, one of the world’s largest organizational consulting firms. She has designed and implemented highly successful programs for employee retention, internal and external customer satisfaction, and leadership development. Publications such as Reuters, The New York Times, ABC News, TODAY, Readers Digest, Men’s Health and The Wall Street Journal have sought out her expertise on topics related to human resources and workplace issues.

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