Organizational police — it's not a role HR leaders want to be in. But it's a necessary position that ensures company rules go enforced. Without direct authority, however, it can be tricky for HR leaders to influence managers to make sure their employees follow the rules.
It can seem innocuous at first. A new timekeeping system is implemented and when an employee doesn't clock in regularly, the manager lets it slide. After all, the manager knows the employee works a certain number of hours on average. Besides, it's uncomfortable to remind employees timekeeping policies extend to them, especially if they think they have a flexible work schedule or believe they are exempt from the rules. But when managers don't take action, yet complain that they can't keep track of which employees are in the building — or when employees who don't use the system complain that their paychecks aren't accurate — the problem needs to be addressed upfront.
More often than not, HR has to take charge, but without the usual authority granted such a job. Tackling the problem requires looking at its broader causes, S. Chris Edmonds, founder, The Purposeful Culture Group, told HR Dive. Managers see a change in the system and maybe don't understand it fully. They feel it's not their problem and that sentiment trickles down, Edmonds said. "The whole thing is based upon consequence management. If senior leaders don't hold managers accountable, the new system will fail," he said.
The risk of noncompliance
Not enforcing accurate timekeeping is a common situation, Nicholas Reiter, labor and employment partner, Venable LLP, told HR Dive. "Managers don't always understand the legal ramifications such as minimum wage and overtime wage claims," he said, but employers are obligated to track employee hours. If there is a dispute that goes to court and employers don't have records, the employee's account is assumed to be true, Reiter said. If a company is found liable, the costs could mount, particularly if the case becomes a class action suit.
But even if the situation doesn't go to court, inaccuracies about pay are a sure way to create tension between employee and employer, Edmonds said. "Do not screw with people's money," he said. It creates confusion and if employees believe the outcome isn't fair, it erodes trust.
As much as HR leaders want to get out of the policing role and function instead as consultants, situations that involve compliance, such as salary and safety, require someone to be the referee. That role is not going to change, said Edmonds. HR performs a vital service, but it's not always fun, he acknowledged. HR leaders may ask why they get so many hard problems, Edmonds said; "Congratulations. That means you're listening. If HR isn't trusted, there's no channel for people's concerns to get raised. That erodes trust, respect and erodes performance."
Solving timekeeping and other compliance issues
While HR needs to protect the company's interest, HR leaders can still consult with managers to help them understand the consequences of their actions — and perhaps figure out why compliance isn't happening.
Assess the issue. When both managers and employees are not following the rules, three conditions are at play, Brian Paradis, senior partner, CSuite Solutions, wrote to HR Dive in an email. "The big why is missing," he said. Employees and managers may not understand the purpose, the benefit of compliance or what ramifications may follow from not following the rules.
Another potential issue: the process is difficult or flawed and creates too much friction for managers or employees to overcome. Even if many people would use a timekeeping system, some adjustments may be too burdensome, he added.
Managers could also be bombarded with potentially competing priorities. This issue can especially run rampant regarding staff functions within an organization, Paradis said. HR may be unaware of requirements from finance, for example, that compete or do not allow employees time to learn the new system or use it properly.
Ensure senior management is on board. It's up to senior leaders to say "these are the new rules" and make sure managers are trained, said Edmonds. If the new behaviors aren't enforced, that damages the credibility of the leadership team.
Explain the logical consequences that not complying can have on the company. Recommend solutions such as online courses to make sure employees know how to use the process, have a reward system to praise managers who emphasize it and provide coaching to those who don't, Edmonds added.
Consult with mid- and front-line managers. Although senior managers set the expectations, it's the mid-level and front-line managers who provide the day to day consistency. HR leaders can explain that timekeeping is everyone's responsibility — both the employee's to make sure they are punching in accurately and the employer's to make sure the process is being followed, Reiter said.
HR leaders should explain the legal risks the manager puts the company at by not complying. Emphasizing that enforcing timekeeping is part of a manager's job is also important, Reiter said. Recordkeeping is particularly important if a manager plans to fire an employee. If one of the reasons is perpetual tardiness, for example, the manager would need to have documentation of the problem and the steps taken to make the employee more accountable. Not having this information raises the company's risk.
"A lot of managers don't realize the risk they are creating for the company and the potential to inhibit productivity and disrupt business operations," Reiter said. Once managers understand this, they are usually willing to comply.
If a manager refuses to comply with rules across the board, that could be a symptom of bigger performance issues, Reiter said. In the majority of situations, there's no need for the shift to become a disciplinary matter for the manager, he noted.
"Here's the real crux: most managers want to do this job," he added. "They just don't know how important it is."