Our work environment is ever-changing. Recent years have clearly shown us that we must be ready and able to adapt to constant changes. Management teams, including human resources managers, have a growing responsibility to keep up with the changing needs of their team, the industry, applicable regulations, and their workplace. That’s a big task, and you may be surprised how easy it can be for organizations to inadvertently allow their HR practices to become outdated. In this article, I’ll outline five critical HR issues you may not be handling correctly:
#1. Insufficient onboarding processes.
Every business should have an onboarding plan in place for newly hired team members. This plan should go well beyond a new team member’s first day and should encompass relaying your firm’s mission and vision, providing access to standard operating procedures, connecting new team members with seasoned mentors, and supporting them throughout their journey with your firm.
Also, don’t forget about internal hires! They still need to be onboarded! New hires, lateral position transfers, and newly promoted team members all need to be formally onboarded into their positions in order to be successful in their new roles. Every single team member should be provided with a job description and scorecard. They need to be familiarized with their department and their place on an organizational chart. There should be a formal announcement made regarding all new team members. This helps to set the right tone, excite your team, and show the new team member that you’re thrilled to have them on board. Provide all new team members with a formal training plan to ensure their success. If a team member is moving into a leadership role, their training plan should include training focused on effective leadership tactics.
#2. Failure to really listen to employee concerns.
Too frequently, HR Managers fail to pick up on red flags brought to them by team members. While having an HR Manager or HR point of contact is a great first step for many law firms, it alone is insufficient. Take the time and effort to ensure you have created a truly safe place for team members to report issues.
If team members do not feel comfortable reporting or discussing concerns, then small issues can turn into even bigger problems before the management team becomes aware of them. When your team members have an issue, they weigh the risk against the reward of reporting it. Minimize the risk and increase the reward so that you can be sure issues are brought forward timely. If your team perceives a risk in reporting concerns, they will wait until the issue is big enough to tip the scale before reporting it. Worse yet, instead of coming to you, they may report the issue elsewhere, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). How can you create a safe space? Don’t listen just to document. Although documentation is important (more on that later), you should be listening to understand and resolve. Even when team members are reporting issues with which you do not agree, or they seem simply burned out and need a safe space to vent, a great HR Manager should still hear and understand all issues and seek to resolve them.
#3. Improper payroll structures.
Pay increases should not be automatic; they should be structured and merit based. What is the value that this employee is creating within the team? Team members should understand the expectations their supervisors have of them and understand the benchmark for salary increases. Additionally, consider doing a compensation analysis for each position in your firm to ensure you are paying all team members within the correct pay range.
You need to ensure you are paying your team members fairly for their position in your market. The highest performing team members should be paid the highest within their position’s range. Those paid at the lower end of the range should have a clear understanding of what they must do in order to increase their salary. All team members should understand the pay range parameters for the position they hold.
#4. Unfamiliarity/noncompliance with Federal Labor Laws.
Do you really understand the federal labor laws, and are you in compliance? Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) all set out laws your firm should be aware of and in compliance with.
Did you know that the IRS estimates that 90% of all employers (who self-administer their plans) are out of compliance with COBRA? These laws are updated frequently with the parameters often changing. Do you truly understand these laws well enough to make sure you are complying? If not, seek out legal advice. These laws can be a minefield, and failure to comply can result in penalties of thousands of dollars a day.
#5. Failure to document.
We know we need to document performance problems; however, many employers wait too long to document these issues. You let the little things slide until they aren’t little anymore. Then, you scramble to get the documentation you need to take disciplinary action. This rarely works.
Hold regular employee performance reviews and be honest but fair in those reviews. In between performance reviews, communicate with your team members frequently about performance and document conversations. Notate all issues, improvements, wins, and losses, both big and small. Build your team members up when they perform well and provide constructive feedback when you identify areas needing improvement. This allows you, the management team, to accurately weigh high performance against low performance for each team member. Furthermore, if you are considering promoting team members into higher positions from within, then you need the documentation trail of your team member’s high performance. Document key elements like performance, attendance, training, and skill-building, and any thoughts/ concerns brought forth by the employee. Bottom line: document, document, document!
Getting HR right is a monumental task. The leadership team at your firm needs to be supportive and proactive in that endeavor, and your HR manager should feel like they have the tools and training they need to succeed in their vital role within your law firm. Eliminating these critical HR issues will position your firm for ongoing success, increased morale, and heightened team engagement.