A Tale as Old as Time: employees asking about their 401K plan for the 17th time today
People Ops managers know the drill; you get an employee message on Slack/Email/teams with a question, you're distracted from whatever you were just working on and try to get a response to them as soon as possible. Occasionally, you'll be in a meeting (or otherwise tied up) and the question will be buried under the other dozens of questions you'll get that day. Forcing the employee in question to follow up, but a little less happy this time. People Ops isn't just responsible for answering these questions - they are project managers that have to use Slack DMs or email inboxes to manage the non-stop onslaught of staff questions. These queries range from everything between benefit inquiries, 401k concerns, PTO, and on and on.
Our team at Ariglad have spoken to countless People Ops personnel around the world, at companies ranging from giant conglomerates like Unilever to tiny startups with a 1-person HR team. Overall, these conversations have uncovered that People Ops spend at least 80% of their day communicating with employees and answering questions. To be clear, consistent communication with staff is critical for HR to keep a strong relationship with their workforce and offer support where it's needed. It's a huge part of HR's job. However, our findings indicate that things are spinning out of control for many organizations, which is causing burnout among HR and a less positive experience for employees. Let's look at some reasons why.
Employees expect white-glove service from increasingly busy People Ops teams
As competition for staff increases (especially in the tech sector) we've heard countless examples of employees wanting faster and more accurate responses from HR when they have a question. On the other hand, many organizational leaders are pushing their People Ops teams to focus on strategic projects like hybrid work and DEI. But when 80% of a People Ops Manager's time is spent on things like explaining for the hundredth time that you will be paid out for your PTO - it's hard to focus on completing major strategic overhauls that will make a major difference for your bottom line.
Here are some tips that we've uncovered in our research and conversations with hundreds of HR personnel across the world:
Automize responses for simple questions
For quick questions (eg. where are our dental benefit plans or basic expense queries) employees don't care about the 'personal touch' that HR managers painstakingly provide. They just want an accurate answer, fast. HR is also tired of copying and pasting the same answer numerous times a day because many employees don't go to their intranet and try to find the answer themselves.
Having a way to automatically connect your staff to relevant resources is a great way to cut away hours a day that is spent on answering these simple questions. However, a word of warning: after staff automatically receive a resource, make sure that employees can indicate whether it answered their question. We all know how frustrating it can be when an answer bot just keeps spewing random information that's not helpful. If the first try doesn't work, an employee should be directed to a real HR manager to ensure their experience is positive. Even better is if you can see analytics about which resources have been the most successful at answering employee questions, and which aren't. This focuses your team's efforts on improving the resources that aren't clear, and eventually making it very rare cases that HR has to directly answer any question that's already answered in your intranet of resources.
Stop making employees manage questions in Slack/Teams/Email
Can you imagine if you asked your sales team to manage their pipeline solely in Outlook or LinkedIn? Or if your engineering team had to keep track of product bugs in a word document? These ideas seem insane, but this is basically what we're asking HR to do right now without a proper way to track incoming employee questions. This is a delicate balance because, at the same time, employees don't want to log into a ticketing system to ask HR questions. Employees should be able to ask their questions and maintain a conversation with HR in their medium of choice, while HR can automatically manage incoming questions in a designated system.
HR isn't IT - conversations need to maintain a sense of personable warmth
One of the most common errors we see is that HR is handed a ticketing system that was originally purchased for a different department (eg. ServiceNow or Jira). We've never seen this end well, especially for fast-scaling organizations. Mainly, because employees have been sold a specific view of HR. They are your pals who are there for any questions you have; HR is accessible and welcoming. Employees want to communicate with people they see as accessible over Slack - not log into a ticket system, then get a ticket number and remember to log back in to see what the status is. What ends up happening is that HR keeps getting questions directly over Slack/Teams/Email and they then have to log the question into the third party ticketing system. Not super helpful in reducing time spent on questions.
The bottom line
An exceptional employee experience is based on a positive and trustworthy relationship with People Operations. This is built and maintained by keeping employee communication in casual settings like Slack but having HR's side so organized that all the answers they provide on their end are providing quick, reliable and unified information. It's not fair to force HR to use tools that were built for a completely different department and expect them to reach the same results. HR needs its own tools to offer staff the experience they deserve.