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TecHRseries Interview with Deb Muller, CEO at HR Acuity

Employee relations are just as crucial to the overall success of an organization as customer relations are. With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic increasing challenges for the workforce in several ways, maintaining a strong employee culture and improving team and staff relationships is at the forefront of priorities for global HR teams. A wholesome employee culture will have to comprise of more virtual processes as part of the “new normal”; so how can HR teams do this better?  Catch this complete interview where Deb Muller, CEO at HR Acuity shares some thoughts:

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Tell us a little about yourself Deb, and how you ventured into the HR and employee relations segment…we’d love to hear about some key highlights from your journey so far! 

It definitely has been a journey! I first formed HR Acuity back in 2006, after many years working in corporate HR and employee relations. Workplace investigations had always been my favorite part of the role and I decided to start a business consulting as an investigator. What I found was astonishing. There was no consistent way of conducting employee investigations. Many companies weren’t documenting findings, or if they did, it was totally manual, and written in notebooks. Talk about insecure and inconsistent! I launched HR Acuity first as an investigations methodology and then as a technology platform to conduct and document employee relations and investigations. I literally drew it up in PowerPoint and then we built it!

That’s a few years ago now – today top enterprises like LinkedIn, Qualcomm, Lyft and so many more use our platform and our data and analytics to manage their employee issues. It helps them create better, safer cultures where employees are treated fairly, and risks are reduced by having all employee issues in one place. It’s our mission to create better places to work and everyone who works at HR Acuity lives that every day.

About five years ago, we also launched the Employee Relations Roundtable. It is the only professional community for employee relations leaders and meets in person twice a year. This year we will meet virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are also launching an online community. The Roundtable is an amazing group of thought leaders and they have been instrumental in helping each other lead through the recent pandemic. It is a privilege to work with them!

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Could you take us through some of the top highlights from HR Acuity’s most recent Employee Relations Benchmark Study… given this findings of this study: what top thoughts would you share with global organizations?

Absolutely! Now in its fourth year, the HR Acuity Employee Relations Benchmark Study is the only source for information from employee relations leaders at organizations with more than 1,000 employees from a wide range of industry sectors. The study has become a go-to resource for employee relations professionals to help guide decisions about resources and processes to improve the employee experience and drive better business outcomes.

This year’s study showed a number of key trends, some of which have been continuing from previous years.

Overall, the study shows that employee relations has become a strategic force across the enterprise. ER teams are using standardized processes, data and technology to reduce workplace risk, increase transparency and create safer workplaces.

However, we also found that 45% of ER professionals still feel they lack the appropriate tools to do their jobs effectively, especially predictive analytics to uncover potential employee issues, such as discrimination, bias and harassment, before they occur.

A few other key findings and themes:

Most (52%) of employee relations teams now report directly to the Chief Human Resources Officer or the Head of Human Resources, indicating that organizations have elevated and empowered ER teams.

Formalized standards and best practices are taking hold. Nearly two-thirds of employee relations teams (62%) now use a centralized employee relations model, a best practice, and more than half of employee relations teams (59%) now have a structured process for conducting investigations, representing an 18-point increase since last year’s study.

Employee relations data is increasingly driving visibility across the enterprise. 92% of respondents track employee relations data, though 1/5 of respondents don’t yet act on it. Respondents also report a major increase in requests from leadership on tracking metrics, indicating data is increasingly valued across the organization.

Transparency is increasing. Organizations sharing employee relations metrics directly with employees has increased 17% compared to the prior year, indicating a shift toward a culture of openness and communication.

Tools and technology drive confidence and efficiency. 64% are using an employee relations technology platform – up from 38% in the prior year’s study — and those who do are far more confident in their productivity and efficiency.

Yet – only 45% of employee relations professionals feel very confident they have all the tools they need to work effectively. The biggest gaps are advanced analytics to help drive business decisions, requested by 91% of ER professionals, along with tools to help managers handle employee issues.

To download the complete Fourth Annual Employee Relations Benchmark Report, visit the study page at www.hracuity.com/benchmark.

Given the businesses challenges that the new normal is bringing forth, in what ways would you advise business leaders to create a shift in their overall employee management and employee relation strategies?

Employee relations has always been critical, but now with the “new normal” introduced by the pandemic, HR and ER leaders are front and center. Creating a fair, consistent, transparent culture is increasingly challenging in a virtual and uncertain environment. Working with our ER community and experts, we offer these tips:

Be flexible. Resilience is a must during this period. Laws, guidance and questions are moving fast, especially as we flex in and out of recovery and a potential second wave of the virus. Teams are looking to HR and employee relations for guidance. Stay current – and move fast.

Document carefully and use data to learn. Moving quickly means we need to look back later and learn. You need the right data to do that. Track all employee issues accurately. This includes requests for sick leave, accommodations, allegations of discrimination, etc. Without accurate data, employees could claim retaliation, harassment or unfair treatment – and you also won’t have a record of what went right.

We haven’t experienced a situation like this in our lifetimes. Without tracking and data, it will be impossible to analyze patterns and data – where incidents arose, how patterns tracked to outbreaks and more.

Overcommunicate. As leaders, our teams are looking to us for answers. When will we return to work? How does my medical care work? How will we handle school? Is our business ok? Constant, transparent communication is necessary.

Reimagine. What will work look like after the pandemic? Will you remain remote? What will you do differently? The change we have all been through is not only a chance to reevaluate, using data, but also to reset.

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What according to you should HR heads today focus on implementing as part of their company’s work process and work culture, keeping in mind remote work as a concept might last longer due to the Covid-19 pandemic? 

Employees expect, and deserve, a safe, fair workplace where they receive equitable treatment – with or without a pandemic, virtually or not. Employee should know where to go to report issues and ask questions, whether to report retaliation or harassment or to clarify workplace policies. In addition, communication and tracking become even more important. HR and employee relations must keep track of employee data and issues to understand trends and patterns across their teams to spot and address issues – and communicate constantly to build and maintain an open, transparent culture.

What are your thoughts on the impact of a shift in adoption of HR technologies given the recent changes to the workforce and work culture due to the pandemic?

HR technology, such as an employee relations platform like HR Acuity, are essential to manage workforces and workplace culture during the pandemic. Accusations of harassment don’t disappear – in fact, some are related to COVID – and can be tracked and addressed virtually, using best-in-class investigations protocols and technology. Employee issues can be documented in a central repository for easy data analysis, with reporting and analytics applied to uncover trends and spot potential issues before they occur.  Trying to deal with issues and investigations manually was already a thing of the past, but virtual work and the pandemic has eliminated these approaches completely.

While several teams globally have been vocal about the benefits of the new shift to work from home, what according to you are some of the cons associated with having more employees working remote and how can organizations fix these challenges?

Probably the biggest downside of remote work is the lack of in-person collaboration – the spark that comes from face-to-face interaction. We’ve addressed it in our company with daily team standup virtual meetings and weekly teaming calls that have included everything from meditation to song contests to keep creativity and spirits high. Communication and collaboration require more effort – but they can be addressed.

We’d love to hear about your future plans for the HR Acuity platform… 

HR Acuity continues to grow and evolve and we’re excited about it. We are focused on making our employee relations and investigation platform smarter through data and analytics and recently added new navigation features to enable users to quickly analyze case volume at a glance, along with benchmarking to compare your company to others of similar size. You can expect to see many more data and analytics-driven features later this year!

A few general thoughts / tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic?

None of us have lived through or worked in a time like this. There is no playbook for a pandemic, and we’re creating some of what we’re doing as we go. Luckily, as HR and employee relations leaders, we have strong fundamentals to fall back on, and we can use that toolkit – data, technology, processes, and most of all, empathy, creativity and compassion. We will persevere and lead our teams through with resilience and emerge stronger on the other side. Move fast, learn and keep moving – and take care of your teams along the way.

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HR Acuity

While you can’t prevent every employee relations issue, you can change how you respond. HR Acuity is the only technology platform specifically built for employee relations and investigations management. HR Acuity’s SaaS technology empowers you with built-in intelligence, templates and reporting so you can conduct best practice, fair investigations; uncover trends and patterns through forward-looking data and analytics; and provide trusted, consistent experiences for your people.

Deborah Muller is the CEO and Founder of HR Acuity, a fast-growing HR Tech SaaS start-up. HR Acuity is the only technology platform specifically built for employee relations and investigations management, helping organizations protect their reputations and build  better workplaces. Muller brings more than 25 years of human resources and workplace investigation experience to the company. She is a recognized expert and sought-after speaker in employee relations and workplace investigations and has been featured in Glamour, Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur and many other major news outlets.

Prior to founding HR Acuity, Muller held executive HR positions in Fortune 500 companies, including Honeywell, Citibank and Marsh & McLennan, and served as an independent workplace investigator.

She is the founder of the Employee Relations Roundtable, an interactive forum that brings together employee relations leaders to connect, collaborate and share their learnings, practices and processes related to employee relations.