Engagement at the Heart of Employee Relations

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When someone mentions employee relations, most people just group it in with other functions such as employee engagement or employee experience. While the function does have some undertones of both and other functions, employee relations has its own unique direction.

To explain, I sat down with Yvonne Evans.  She is the Director of Talent Management and Employee Relations for the American Pharmacists Association. With more than 20 years of experience in the field, Evans defines the function and explains how it works.

Yvonne Evans

Director of Talent Management
and Employee Relations

American Pharmacists Associatio

Employee Relations

Mason Stevenson: Describe a day in the work life of Yvonne Evans? 

Yvonne Evans: Well, first of all, my days are always super busy. I can open the door to my office and I can see my phone blinking red. I know as soon as I get in, I have to see what's going on. It consists of coaching leaders on feedback. Employees come in wanting to talk to me about different things, about discussions they've had with their managers. A lot of the time, I’m reviewing policies and procedures. I’m also reviewing laws because a lot of things are changing. I also am involved with conducting mentoring for our organization and employee engagement for employees as well as their supervisors.

So, every day is different. It's funny because some of my colleagues in employee relations call it ER, because every day is different in emergency rooms, and sometimes we feel the same way.

Mason Stevenson: I’ve never heard it described that way. That's a great analogy. What is the overall goal in employee relations?

Yvonne Evans: My firm belief is that the overall goal of employee relations is to help provide a respectful and productive workplace. I believe telling employees that they have a voice, working with supervisors to understand what their voices mean, and how to provide feedback to them in a respectful way that we build trust, that's probably what I consider the core of employee relations. People want to work in environments that are supportive. That's one of my goals is to help create those kind of environments.

Mason Stevenson: When I think about employee relations, sometimes I think it gets grouped in to other functions. Maybe we don't give it the amount of time it deserves. Do you agree with that? If so, why do you think that happens? 

Yvonne Evans: Well, I truly think that happens because people tend to want a quick answer for things. People might say, ‘Why can't we fire Susie? Susie’s been doing X, Y and Z. We should have gotten rid of her a long time ago.’ But they don't understand that there’s a process and certain procedures; there's ways to talking to people. I think that when you don't have that understanding from management, an understanding about what needs to happen, there's a disconnect between employee relations and any other function.

Mason Stevenson: Well, I think those processes are not just there to protect the employer, they’re also there to protect the employee. What components make up a strong employee relations strategy; what does every employee relations strategy need to be successful? 

Yvonne Evans: Well, that's a good question. For me, it's always been the process itself; how are employees treated, how are supervisors coached, what do you need to sustain a good workplace. So I think it's more about that and I think it's about developing trust for both the employees as well as the supervisors. There's a lot of questions that come up about people in employee relations and confidentiality… and rightfully so. One thing I learned years ago is for employee relations to succeed, there has to be that type of confidentiality that most people don't have.

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Mason Stevenson: Ultimately, who is responsible for employee relations? Is it solely a function of HR? Or does it require some work on part of the employee and the employer at large? 

Yvonne Evans: Well, Mason, I really feel that employee relations is a shared responsibility. It's not only just myself and the employee and the supervisor and the organization. It's really a shared responsibility for people who feel that, ‘I don't need those people, I’m going to just go ahead and make my decision’. Sometimes it's good to have a sounding board. Sometimes it's good also for the senior leaders to know exactly what's going on and what other challenges the organization is having based on these discussions. I just feel that it's really everyone's job, from the supervisors to the employees.

Mason Stevenson: Can you define what those roles look like, from an employee standpoint? What is their part of the shared responsibility when it comes to employee relations? 

Yvonne Evans: People don't use their voice enough. People tend to be very fearful. Employees can be very fearful of coming to employee relations, saying things such as, ‘This happened to me, what do you think?’ Every time I talk to the employee, they're like, ‘Well, I don't want to lose my job.’ I always inform them that you can't lose your job for an opinion. You can't lose your job for concern. So I think that that's one thing that the employees must start to understand is that they do have a resource.

Also, the supervisors needs to understand too, that it's important not to just push off issues or discount them because they don't think they're important. They could come to employer relations and say, ’I had this situation happen with my employee, what do you think?’ It's not as if we're going to tell them how to run their department, but I do think that it's important for supervisors to understand that, yes, we can also help you make certain decisions that you shouldn't really be making on your own. So that's where I think there's the shared responsibility.

Mason Stevenson: At the end of the day, if we're looking at employee relations across the board, what's the impact of ER on the business?

Yvonne Evans: Well, I’ve often said that if I could make a difference for one person, my job is fulfilling for me. I do think that employee relations… it can make or break an organization really. I’ve had people who said to me, ‘I lead better because of everything that you took time to teach me.’ That was great to hear. I think that the impact for ER is to create those kind of conditions where leaders are saying thanks for that, and it makes an organization so much better when employees say, ‘I use my voice. I wasn't afraid. I could talk to my supervisor. We're in a better place, and it’s because of what you've done.’ So, that really makes me happy, that makes my day.

Mason Stevenson: I’m curious, what piece of advice would you give a new or aspiring HR professional?

Yvonne Evans: Learners are earners, and readers are leaders. I think as a learner, I’m not just talking about education, but I’m talking about learning from everyone, from the janitor to the CEO, because when you're learning, you're learning life lessons, and some of those discussions, you can glean some really great information about how people think. And then as far as being readers, everyone that has been a successful leader is just they read all the time. That's a really great passion of mine. So I would encourage people coming into the profession to actually read as much as they can, and not just HR books, but all types of books. Also, learn from other people, because that's important as well. Finally, to give back to the profession that most of us truly love as volunteers. You can give back as a mentor for people that have been in the profession for a little bit. It's just a wonderful profession. I would say for someone coming in, enjoy the ride.

Yvonne Evans is the Director of Talent Management and Employee Relations for the American Pharmacists Association.


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