How HR Can Support Both Employees and the CEO at the Same Time

Specific Examples of How to Balance the HR Role to Support Employees and the CEO

HR can balance the HR role and provide HR support to both employees and the CEO. The key is listening.
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Supporting people is what the Human Resources department does. But what happens when the people who need support are coming at situations from different angles? Can HR support the CEO and a regular employee at the same time?

The answer is yes, and the reason is quite simple: doing the right thing for an employee is almost always the right thing for the CEO. Yes, the CEO is concerned about the board or the stock value and the employee is concerned about her sphere of interest, but those two concerns should come together in most situations.

Here are three sample, common scenarios that demonstrate how HR can support both employees and the CEO at the same time.

Problem: Employees Complain That Their Pay Is Too Low

The CEO wants, of course, to keep her payroll expenses as low as possible. The employees want a pay increase. How can HR support both? They have opposite goals. Here are the steps an HR manager can take.

  • Identify market rates. All employees should earn market rates. That means if you have an accounting manager with five years of experience and two non-exempt direct reports, he should earn roughly the same as a similarly situated accounting manager in all of the other companies in the region. Some positions are heavily geographically dependent, and others have national rates. Typically, the higher the level, the more you need to look at national rates.
  • If employees earn below market rates, then the HR manager needs to put together proposed salary increases that will bring the employees to market rates. She will then present this to the CEO.
  • If employees earn at or above market rates, then the HR manager needs to put together the information and present it to the employees so they stop feeling underpaid.

Now, a wise CEO will understand that having employees earning below market rate is bad for the long-term health of her company. Employees who are underpaid are resentful and disengaged. They are more likely to find a new job and move on. And, do you know who moves on first? Your best and brightest. Those are the people that can find a new job most quickly.

Likewise, wise employees will understand that if they already earn market rates at this job, they won’t benefit by leaving. Now, will they be happy about not receiving a big raise? Of course not, but a good HR manager can explain the reasons for the current pay level. Most importantly, the employees feel that the HR manager listened to them and didn’t dismiss their concerns.

Problem: The CEO Wants to Cut Headcount

Supporting employees through a layoff is challenging. However, if layoffs are the best decision for the business, a savvy HR manager will not object to a reduction in force. You can support employees through a layoff even if the situation is unpleasant. A supportive HR manager will do the following:

  • Ensure either a long notice period (sometimes required under WARN if enough people are affected) or a large severance payment. Severance is often better than a notice period as it allows people to focus on finding a new job.
  • Provide honest help to employees. If the reason for termination is a reduction in force, don’t punish people by making them ineligible for rehiring or refusing to provide references.
  • Support unemployment. Unemployment is a state decision, but for layoffs, it’s all but guaranteed. Unscrupulous businesses try to argue that the terminations were for cause to avoid the ding on unemployment. Supportive HR managers provide the paperwork and give help so that people can apply for unemployment.
  • Provide outplacement services. You can either work with a professional outplacement firm or in-house, where HR staff can hold workshops on interviewing and resume writing and coach employees on job searching methods.

The CEO may see these activities as unnecessary expenses, but she is wrong. When you lay employees off, you want these people to leave and get on with their lives. If you support them through the layoff, they will find a job faster and are less likely to sue you for discrimination.

You will also have a better chance of retaining your reputation as an employer of choice which is especially important following a layoff.

Problem: Employees Feel Overworked

Many businesses aim to operate “lean.” While this sounds like it’s good for the bottom line, it also puts a tremendous amount of stress on employees. If you’ve just been through a layoff, the stress can be especially acute. The employees who remain miss their former coworkers and now have more work to do to earn the same paycheck.

You can understand why employees feel unsupported in this situation, while the CEO is happy that she’s meeting her financial goals. However, HR can support both the CEO and the employees in these ways.

  • Look at processes and eliminate unnecessary procedures and processes. Naturally, HR cannot do this alone, but they can encourage business unit heads to actively pursue process simplification and improvement. Remember, just because you did it this way for the past 12 years doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things forever.
  • Consider adding in flexible schedules if the company doesn’t already offer flexible schedules for employees. If an employee can work from home, you’ve just saved them their commuting time. That is a huge benefit to many people. Likewise, allowing an employee to come in early or late, whichever works best with their schedules, relieves stress.

You Can’t Make Everyone Happy All of the Time

It would be great if everyone could love everyone else and love their jobs and get free lunch every day, but you work in the real world. When you find that there isn’t an easy solution where both senior leadership and regular people agree on the response, the best HR support you can offer is to listen. 

Listening isn’t just standing there while people talk; it’s actively seeking to understand needs and concerns. Having an employee understand why you’re upset makes them feel better. When you can adequately understand their concerns, you can also address the issues and explain why the change they want isn’t possible.

Yes, sometimes people won’t listen to a perfectly rational reason. Sometimes the CEO will reject your ideas on how to make the people happy, so that she has a better company, but that’s life. Most of the time, however, good listening skills go a long way towards helping achieve harmony in the workplace.

Don’t ever get into us vs. them situations. Remember, all employees want the company to succeed because their lives are better with stable employment. And deep down, all CEOs want happy employees because they perform at a higher level. So, look for how they can support each other, and through providing HR support, you’ll achieve your goals as well.