Human Resources


How HR Can Encourage Professional Development

Businesses both large and small can reap the benefits of a more educated workforce. Employees who want to keep up with the latest developments in their field will be interested in continuing their education, and employers who encourage them may ultimately enjoy a more productive workforce. One study conducted by The EvoLLLution revealed that 96 percent of employers reported that continuing education improves job performance. The same study also found that 87 percent of employers said that continuing education was directly linked to higher worker salaries. In a competitive global economy, companies who value employee education—and the employees themselves—can expect to fare better overall.

Traditionally, professional development through continuing education has been reserved for professionals such as attorneys, doctors, engineers, and others who are required to take continuing education units (CEUs) to renew professional licenses. However, in recent years, companies in a variety of industries have begun to encourage their employees to pursue professional development and continued learning. These organizations understand that more education usually results in more productive and happy staff members.

Some employers have been slow to promote continuing education for their employees, mostly due to fears about the cost and the tangible benefits to their bottom line. Other employers worry that providing a comprehensive continuing education program—or simply encouraging employees to pursue education on their own—could prompt them to take their newfound skills and knowledge to a competitor. While these concerns are valid, ignoring professional development is not a good idea. Here, we’ll go over the main benefits of continuing education and some ways your organization can provide access to it.




Continuing Education Encourages Employee Commitment

One of the biggest problems companies face is high turnover. Many organizations have an issue attracting talent and getting top performers to remain with the company over the long term. Very few of today’s employees stay with the same company throughout their career, so employers are always looking for ways to increase employee longevity. The typical reasons why employees leave jobs include lack of appreciation from their manager, low motivation, distrust of their employer fueled by a lack of transparency, and limited or no growth potential.

One way to combat the problem of dissatisfied employees is to encourage them to pursue further education. This can be accomplished through workshops, seminars, in-house training, continuing education classes, certification programs, or incentives to return to junior college, university, or other institutions. HR can assist in developing education and training programs that will not only give employees the skills to perform their current jobs more effectively, but will also help them grow professionally.


Explore Education Options

There are several options once a company decides to implement a professional development or continuing education initiative. From online classes to tuition reimbursement, there are multiple ways to encourage employees to obtain further education.

Providing access to online classes can be beneficial for both the employee and the employer. Online courses allow individuals to proceed at their own pace, and they can access these classes anywhere, at any time, via a variety of devices. Although many online courses are offered through colleges and universities, several online learning platforms have sprung up in recent years that allow individuals to learn everything from web development to marketing through easy-to-access, module-based classes. Many of these classes are reasonably priced, costing far less than a traditional university.

Employers can encourage professional development by offering incentives as well. One popular incentive is tuition reimbursement, which helps offset the cost of continuing education. Typically, employers will require employees to maintain a certain GPA or agree to continue working for the company for a pre-defined period of time after the program is complete. Other organizations promise their employees higher pay upon completion, or encourage employees to step into roles with more responsibility once they complete coursework.




Encourage Mentorship Programs

One of the best and most cost-effective ways to encourage professional development is a mentorship program. Many of the country’s top business leaders have had mentors who helped guide their careers, and mentoring can be a great way to expand employees’ knowledge. Organizational needs change constantly, and a mentor serves as an expert who can help up-and-coming employees navigate professional challenges more effectively.

By implementing a mentorship program within your organization, you can encourage teamwork and deliver real-world training that employees can use right away. Mentorship programs can also help promising employees develop the leadership skills they need to move into roles with more responsibility, including C-suite positions. If your company is known as one that cares about employee development and promotes from within, it may be easier to attract top talent.

Additionally, mentorship programs can enhance company culture by enabling experienced employees to share their knowledge with newer hires. The mentor-mentee relationship typically brings together individuals who may have otherwise had very little interaction with each other. These relationships help new employees feel more welcome and demonstrate that the employer cares about their overall success. Mentoring can also help ensure that a senior-level employee’s institutional knowledge is not completely lost when he or she leaves the organization.

Professional development means more than just an incentive program or a professional development class, however. It requires true collaboration between employers and employees. HR departments should work with upper management to develop a continuing education strategy that is cost-conscious and that gives employees the skills they need to excel. Employees should also take responsibility for their own professional growth by seeking new learning opportunities and bringing ideas to management.


What Does It Take to Be a Great HR Leader?

Most HR professionals get into the field because they are social by nature and enjoy helping others. But while these are certainly useful attributes for an HR pro to have, a truly great HR leader needs much more. If you want your HR career to be successful rather than so-so, here are seven things you’ll need in your toolbox:


  1. A vision

Great HR leaders don’t wait for the organization to define what role HR should play. Instead, they have a vision for where they want to go and why. HR is most effective when it’s proactive rather than reactive, so don’t be afraid to explore the bigger picture and develop your own goals for the future. For example, do you want to create a workplace culture that encourages long-term career development? Or perhaps help your organization to improve its flexible work policies to better attract and retain top talent? Research what other organizations are doing, network with your peers, and become your own expert on what’s possible. Don’t forget to include the leadership team in your thinking so you can get critical input and buy-in from an early stage.




  1. The ability to think strategically

At its best, HR is more than just another department—it’s a critical tactical element that understands organizational goals and knows how to support those goals most effectively. This requires strategic thinking skills, including the ability to get from the what and the why to the how. If your company wants a lean and empowered team, for example, it’s up to you to figure out how to achieve that objective, whether that’s by working with management to reorganize the institutional hierarchy or by designing self-service HR tools that allow teams to enter and retrieve their own HR data.


  1. Communication skills

It probably goes without saying, but excellent communication skills are essential if you want to make the leap from good HR professional to great HR leader. If this is an area that you struggle with, it might be a good idea to get some training with an organization like Toastmasters. Even a little bit of this kind of preparation can go a long way toward improving the effectiveness of your speaking style. And it’s not just for your own benefit, either. Remember that it’s part of your job to help others communicate more effectively as well, whether they’re giving presentations during a meeting or working out a conflict with a colleague. So the more you develop your own skills, the better able you’ll be to support others.


  1. Technical prowess

Today, with HR functions and processes relying more and more on technological solutions, it’s no longer possible for HR leaders to get away with leaving the “software stuff” for IT to deal with. The technical element of HR is now a critical part of developing a vision and thinking strategically, so it’s vital that you understand what technology can and can’t do for you, how to use it most effectively, and how to articulate your ideas and participate in discussions about it. If you’re not a technology lover by nature, this is another area where some special training can be very valuable.




  1. Flexibility

Because of the major shifts that are taking place in the workplace (a new generation dominating the workforce, technological advances dramatically transforming how we work, etc.), HR is changing rapidly. Still, many HR pros are not keeping up. As a great HR leader, you need to be flexible enough to move beyond what you know and are comfortable doing and embrace the changes ahead. Keep abreast of new issues and best practices, look at policies that need to be updated, and figure out effective ways to support your team and your organization through periods of change.


  1. A good grasp of numbers

In today’s competitive economy, HR has to fight for what it needs, and that means that a strong HR leader must be able to crunch the numbers to demonstrate the value of proposed initiatives. For example, you might be thinking about including a substantial period of supervised training as part of the onboarding process. If the only thing that management sees is how much that initiative will cost, it likely won’t get approved, but if you can show that the investment will significantly reduce turnover and thus cut down on the costs of recruiting and hiring, your argument will be far more persuasive.




  1. Accessibility

As a great HR leader, one of the most important things you can do is make yourself accessible to your employees. Don’t stay in your office and hide behind policies; instead, get out into the workplace, meet employees where they are, and show that you are part of the team. By making yourself more present and available, employees and managers alike will trust you more and have greater confidence in—and respect for—your decisions.


How to Create an Effective Employee Handbook

When drafted carefully and correctly, an employee handbook can be an incredibly valuable tool for employees and employers alike. Clearly identified policies that are laid out in positive, easy-to-understand terms not only protect businesses in the event of any potential lawsuits, they also inspire trust and loyalty in employees by spelling out what the company expects of them and what they can expect of the company. Read on for a list of things that all effective employee handbooks should contain.


  1. Provisions required by law

Different states have different rules about which policies employee handbooks need to include, so it’s important for businesses to do their homework about what their state requires (local human resources organizations, employment attorneys, or state labor departments can be a good starting point for this due-diligence process). Policies whose inclusion in the handbook may be required by law include the following:

Family medical leave policies—Under the Family Medical Leave Act, employers of a certain size must provide their employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (within a 12-month period) for any of the following reasons: birth or care of a child, care of an immediate family member with a serious medical condition, or medical leave for the employee her- or himself. Many states also have their own policies about unpaid family leave that the handbook may need to address.

Equal employment and non-discrimination policies—The US Department of Labor requires a number of businesses to clearly post information stating that they adhere to non-discrimination and equal opportunity employment laws in their hiring and promotion practices.

Worker’s compensation policies—In many states, it is a common requirement for companies to inform employees, in writing, about worker’s compensation policies.




  1. Other sections to consider including

There are many other types of policies and provisions that are helpful to include in an employee handbook, even if no law requires it. In many ways, the employee handbook is where companies can set the tone about what things are important to them as a business, including what behaviors they value and what behaviors are not acceptable. Sections to consider addressing in the handbook include the following:

Company history—A section on the company’s history and mission can serve as a way to orient employees to the company’s culture; in other words, it can give employees a real sense of the people they’re working with and for.

Paid time-off policy—This section should clearly spell out the company’s vacation policy, including key details like how employees earn vacation time and how they should schedule time off. This is also a good place to address which holidays the company observes and how the company will compensate employees if it requires them to work on a holiday.

Pay and promotions—Being clear and upfront about how it handles pay and promotions is one of the most effective ways that a company can boost employee morale and loyalty. This section should spell out methods of payment, state the company’s overtime policy, define work hours, and provide clarity about the pay grade structure so that new employees are clear about their position in the hierarchy. However, it’s important to remember that if the handbook specifies a company policy for advancement, then that policy needs full buy-in from executives and managers: overpromising and underdelivering here could lead to serious problems down the road.

Benefits—This section should give employees a general overview of the benefits (health, dental, vision, life insurance, etc.) the company offers, but it’s best to avoid discussing specific policies in great detail, as these may change frequently. Instead, focus on being clear about who is eligible for benefits: spell out eligibility criteria, when employees can enroll for benefits, and when it’s possible to change benefits.

Employee behavior—While it’s tempting to make this section into a detailed laundry list of what’s acceptable and what’s not, it’s best to keep things fairly general here. The last thing a company needs is for an employee to persist with unacceptable behavior because it’s not specifically forbidden in the handbook. Expectations of employee conduct can be covered in broad terms, along with issues like attendance, meal breaks and rest periods, conflict resolution best practices, and potential deal-breaker behaviors, like those involving substance abuse or harassment.




  1. General disclaimers

In addition to specific policies, every employee handbook needs to contain a few basic clauses and disclaimers. These include specifying that the handbook is not a contract (in other words, that it doesn’t make any promises about continued employment); clarifying that, in the event of any discrepancies, the handbook trumps previous policy documents; and stating that the policies may be subject to change. Finally, every employee handbook must include an employee acknowledgement page: each employee should sign and return this page to acknowledge that he or she takes responsibility for reading, understanding, and following the policies described within the handbook.

new hire

6 of the Biggest Misconceptions Employees Have About HR

HR may just be the department that employees love to hate. Negative stories about HR experiences abound, and HR professionals may be labelled by employees as uncaring, incompetent, and out of touch. But does HR really deserve the bad reputation it sometimes gets?

Not so much, say many corporate experts. On the contrary, before employees point the finger of blame at their HR reps, they would do well to first examine their own assumptions about the function of HR. The fact is that – for a department that plays such a prominent role in an employee’s experience at work – HR is often misunderstood. Many employees who find themselves dissatisfied or frustrated by an HR experience don’t realize that the real problem is simply that their expectations of HR don’t match the reality.

Read on to learn about six of the most common misconceptions employees have about HR.


Employee expectation #1: HR is an advocate for me and should be on my side.


Reality: HR must balance the needs of employees and those of the employer.

This misconception is one of the most difficult to shake off because employees like to feel that they have an ally in their HR rep. Naturally, HR professionals want to do their best to support and work in the interests of the employees who come to them for help. However, employees need to understand that HR also has an obligation to the employer.

While it is of course in the employer’s best interest to ensure that employees are engaged and satisfied, there will be times when the interests of the employee and those of the employer don’t align. This balancing act between working to protect all sides and navigating the boundary between employee advocacy and complying with both company policy and the law is, without question, one of the most challenging aspects of HR’s work.




Employee expectation #2: HR is there to help me whenever I have conflicts at work.


Reality: Employees need to take a measure of responsibility when it comes to conflict resolution.

Obviously one of HR’s functions is to assist employees with conflict resolution. However, HR shouldn’t be an employee’s first resort when an issue arises. Instead, it’s better for an employee to approach HR after he or she has already attempted to work things through with the colleague or supervisor in question. Even then, HR is more likely to coach the employee through some conflict resolution tactics than it is to intervene directly.


Employee expectation #3: If I tell HR representatives about a problem, they should act on it right away.


Reality: HR staff need documented evidence of a problem.

One of the most common complaints employees have about HR professionals is that they are too bureaucratic, and are more interested in the correct paperwork than in helping solve problems. However, correct and completed documentation is critical for HR. This is because taking action based on an employee’s word alone exposes a business to liability, particularly if there are no supporting witnesses or if the other party denies the problem.


Employee expectation #4: HR told me it addressed my complaint, but didn’t give any details, so obviously the issue wasn’t really addressed.


Reality: Confidentiality can prevent HR from disclosing information about how a situation was handled.

Not everyone realizes that information about employees is confidential by law. What this means is that when an HR staff member handles an employee’s complaint, he or she cannot necessarily reveal the steps taken and the outcome of the situation. While it’s understandable that this can leave the employee who raised the issue without an adequate sense of closure or the feeling that their issue was properly addressed, it’s important to remember that a lack of details doesn’t mean a lack of effort.



Employee expectation #5: HR can give me advice about asking for a raise.


Reality: HR cannot help employees negotiate.

Employees who think that HR can give them advice on how big a raise they should ask for or how much severance they should receive are unfortunately mistaken, largely due to issues of confidentiality. Asking HR for information on specific numbers like these is essentially asking for private details about other employees, which of course HR can’t divulge. But employees who feel frustrated by this should remember that, behind the scenes, HR is consistently reviewing pay equity, promotions, and policy development in order to ensure that all employees have fair opportunities.


Employee expectation #6: HR can give me the promotion/raise/special treatment my manager promised me.


Reality: Promises aren’t always effectively communicated to HR and may not be in line with company policy.

If an employee feels like HR is dragging its heels on a promotion his or her supervisor said was in the works, HR may not have been properly informed about the manager’s decision. HR is unlikely to be aware of promises like these unless they’ve been documented in an employee’s performance development plan. The employee’s first step in cases like these should be to get written confirmation of their manager’s intentions before moving forward.