HRTech247 interview with our CEO Ken Naismith

Employee relations - Where does case management sit in the HR industry.

Watch the video here or read the transcript below if you prefer.


Bob Rehill: Hi, and welcome to another Coffee in 15 with myself Bob Rehill, founder and Chief Innovator here at Looking forward to today’s conversation where I’ll be joined by Ken Naismith the CEO of Workpro, talking about all things to do with employee relations and case management. Let’s go and have a chat, and see what he’s got to say.

Hi Ken, great to connect with you, hope all is well.

Ken Naismith: All's well. Thanks, Bob. You?

Bob: Yeah, not too bad. Thank you. Well, listen, it's great because we've actually not spoken before. I'm really looking forward to hearing about you. I know you're the CEO of Workpro, and we'll come on to that a bit later, but there's an interesting topic that I always talk to my clients about, what is Employee Relations? What do people do about that? And how are our HR functions managing these areas? It would be great to hear about what you are seeing in the market. And where does Employee Relations sit in context of the wider HR industry? 

Ken: There's a few things happening all at once Bob, first of all, people expect more from their company. So, in employee relations, there are three things you're trying to do, you're trying to give good service to employees who need your help, and that's part of the case management piece that we will come on to talk about. You’ve got to protect the company, that you don't inadvertently have double and triple standards going on. And then there's also the fact that people are working apart. So normally, they could pop their head over the filing cabinet and ask one of their colleagues what's happening with such and such a case? Now they can't, they’re spread to each corner of the country.

So when Employee Relations teams are managing events, for better or worse, we've moved from a routine HR function into a matter of relations, e.g. a person who's got an issue happening in their life or in their work needs either some hand holding, or some guidance, or a bit of discipline.

You've also got the fact that young people in particular, don't fall into line now. They've got their ways of working and expectations. It's been different in different companies, but  they’re all variations of the same flavour. An older workforce will harump, and grump and get on with it, whereas young people would just leave and go to another job.

Bob: And it's a really interesting conversation Ken, because you're right, when I talk to organizations, and we support them with their change, and transformation, they talk about bringing all these wonderful HR systems that allow an employee to do their day to day transactional items, and yes, you can manage their performance, etc. But you're right. Do we focus enough attention on the ones that really matter, where they have a true case, whether it be a grievance, whether it be something else etc.? And I don't think organizations necessarily think about technology solutions or processes to really underpin that. Is that something that you're seeing as well and supporting organizations on?

Ken: So, we find that there are two extremes. There are organizations, pretty large ones at that, still working with spreadsheets, and the other end of the scale we’ve got organizations who are just trying to take people out of the picture altogether.

An employee might be delighted, if they want to know how many days holiday they've got left, they might be delighted just to click onto an app, or they want to make a query about the cycle to work scheme. But when they really need that person to talk to them, whether it's to support them, or to take a potentially tricky situation and defuse it, that's where the people bit comes in; the technology would then be guiding people, keeping the direction of travel going, keeping track of the times, who's got actions outstanding, so that the things are done on time.

Whether it's good support for the employee, whether it's to keep the business right from an employment law point of view, that's where technology comes in, getting everything all together in one place, even borrowing stuff from other systems for the purposes of an employee relations event, and then updating the main system with what the outcome is. Technology definitely has a place - pulling it all together and letting people see the whole story in one place.

Bob: And again, I'm just sitting here reflecting. I don't talk about it often enough with some of my clients, we do miss that whole piece, which is a small percentage of the number of activities in the HR function, but is very focused on helping issues such as wellbeing issues, for example. But those are very sensitive conversations that employees have. And it's those scenarios that actually don't fit with a standard big HR system, which is dealing with transactions and holiday and performance, but true employee relation cases, and actually using technology to make sure it's captured, it's managed correctly. And actually, ultimately, if they go further into legal cases or anything like that, then having that audit trail - it's that area that you're focussing on. And I know we won't talk about products on this call, but Workpro does this sort of thing. Is this an area that you're seeing clients coming to you and saying more and more - 'Yeah, we need to automate this and manage this better'?

Ken: Yeah, you're right. Workpro (which is our product) does do all these things. But as they say on the BBC, other products are available! Any good case management system will help the person who's dealing with the case do the actual physical stuff on the case, but the thing that the budget holders pay for, is the reporting. So when you're talking about it - equality, trends, all that good stuff - the case manager might not even be aware that the system is in the background  keeping track of other aspects.

So, if there's a change in the way that overtime is paid, and suddenly, there's a lot of absences, that will show up as a trend in the report, and then you can look at what's the reason for the spike and absences. And, it could be that the clubs and pubs have all just opened again, and you've got too many 24-year-olds on the Sunday morning shift, and they phone in sick. I don't know if that's a good example! But it's the kind of thing a system can help gather - data that you don't necessarily want to be asking, e.g. how old are you? You don't necessarily want to be asking that. But in the background, the system can say, more older people have opted to work from home and here's the issues. Or, in the NHS, for example, they're keen to track disability and ethnicity, all of that good stuff, that can all be tracked. And it can be anonymized as well. So, where it's relevant, you can keep a finger on the pulse.

Bob: it is interesting, because I think, as I was saying, a lot of organizations miss this whole Employee Relations aspect of deploying new HR technology and processes or changing the way that they work. And I think it's a really important point that you don't forget this part of the equation, it may only be 1 or 2% of the people that go through an employee relations type of activity, but actually, they're the ones that you need to look after the most right? And care for and actually learn from and manage correctly as well. And, you know, employee relations is a fundamental part of being a successful organization, and a successful HR function, right?

Ken: I don't know how HR do it, because everyone else has got a fancy system to help them but the core HR professionals, they've got an email box, they've got something in SharePoint, they've got something else in a folder, they've got something else that was historic, then you've got all these versions of letter and email templates, and they’re having to juggle them all about. So get the whole thing in one place, whether you buy Workpro or not, get a system that does this for you, it takes the stress and the strain out of it and protects the company to make sure you're on track with all this stuff. And it gives good service to employees, who either need your firm hand or they need you to hold their hand at a time when they need [support]. So, customer service for the employee is every bit as important as the reporting. The corporate consistency and compliance is as important as helping the person who's trying to do this job, either at their desk or at home.

Bob: I love these conversations Ken because I actually learn so much from talking to people like yourself who see it day in day out. And it's really important that people don't forget this whole Employee Relations thing.

First of all, I want to thank you because you're a great supporter of what we're doing at HRTech247 and getting visibility of technology. I really appreciate that.

What else is what's in the plan for next year for you guys in the coming months?

Ken: So, what we're finding is that more HR teams want to work collaboratively with line managers. So, what's coming down the line is a portal, so that line managers can work on their own cases only. They can’t see the other cases and other departments the way the HR team can, but they can do some work on their own local cases.

It's partly to get the knowledge and responsibility down to the line manager, but if something has to escalate, HR is already aware, and it's a smooth transition into the HR part of the system. I think that's going to be the 2022 focus.

A big shout out to all HR people. If you think about it, when the pandemic started, they were at kitchen tables with bits of jotters, a borrowed laptop and all the rest of it. The GDPR people must have been pulling their hair out for a few weeks. Quickly, they got all that under control. And so many more cases to deal with, and so many unknowns. So, congratulations for that. If you get the chance to do it again, you should have a case management system to help you with all that. So, absolutely, it’s not too late, now is the time to do it before the next wave hits!

Bob: It is and listen, I mean anyone listening to this, you can go to HRTech247, go and find the Workpro stand, lots of examples there. There's case studies, etc. Really useful to understand even if it's just to get an awareness about what's going on in the marketplace, But definitely, our advice at HRTech247 is don't forget that whole Employee Relations aspect of looking after employees. There might be a small number of them, but they tend to be the loudest and most influential in the market

Ken, listen, it's been great catching up with you and I look forward to catching up with you in person at some point maybe over a beer. But thank you for your time. Ken look after yourself. And great to great to catch up. Bye for now.

Ken: Thanks. Bye