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Is 2011 finally the time for HR to outsource Employee Relations?

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Is 2011 finally the time for HR to outsource Employee Relations?

When the going gets tough, the tough start outsourcing – but how far can you – should you – go?

Lindsay Soulsby, Director of workplace conflict management company People Resolutions, examines the merits of HR outsourcing and discusses whether the outsourcing of Employee Relations (ER) services could prove a beneficial long-term solution for organisations of all shapes and sizes.

It’s a certainly a tough HR world out there right now. Jobs lost. Budgets hit. Pay frozen. Morale shot. Every business expecting more for less, and anything that gets in the way of sales targets and innovation, well, can we not get someone to do this cheaper, faster and maybe even better? But how far can you – and should you – go in outsourcing your HR needs?

Let’s dispel some still popular HR outsourcing myths first:

  • HR outsourcing is a hard times solution. HR outsourcing might have been a hard times option once, but not anymore. HR outsourcing is now proving to be a great support service for internal HR teams during both the bad times and the good.
  • HR outsourcing is a gap-plugging temporary fix. Again, maybe once. But most good outsourcing solutions offer excellent long-term retainers as well as project-by-project support.
  • HR outsourcing is a call centre or software-only option. These things have their place, but the latest HR outsourcing companies are more like consultancies, set up and staffed by former HR professionals. As such, they naturally run a mile from anything impersonal; think of it as if your HR department, or part of it, had simply been shipped to another office across town.
  • HR outsourcing is a painful time consuming process.  Sure, and HR are without question the time-poor profession.  But HR outsourcing solutions are not all about bells and whistles or Nobel prize winning maths; most talk plain HR English as well as understand your industry. Given that HR can’t sell, this means you’re also less likely to be bamboozled by sales talk.
  • HR outsourcing is not business focused. This is of course the rather dull common charge against HR in general. Not true of course, and not true of outsourced HR solutions either, especially given what’s been said above. In fact, because many outsourced HR solutions have been set up by former senior top table HR, they naturally and pointedly sync to business priorities; this is their sales pitch.

HR outsourcing has, for the most part, outgrown these tags. It’s grown up. But how far can it go? Outsourcing HR admin – things like payroll – is well established.  There are some inspiring training courses out there too. But how about outsourcing Employee Relations?

I know what you’re thinking: in a word, no.  Not a chance. Even though instances of workplace conflict might be on the increase and employment legislation is ever changing, employee relations are still best dealt with in-house. Or are they?

Certainly there is no point in outsourced ER trying to take over all of the ER or HR function. As HR folk, you know your people better than anyone. It is your territory. ER outsourcing can’t – and shouldn’t – attempt to fill this space. But aside from the obvious cost savings, it’s worth pointing out the potential reduction in resources, time and stress – which few talk about – not just for the business, but for HR itself. Added to this, the proactive approach being used by outsourced ER services can make a real difference when used in partnership, and not just for the HR-lite or even HR-less businesses , which suffer from people behaving badly issues just as big companies do; they are natural business partners for established HR departments too. But the main reason why you should consider ER outsourcing is that it’s not really outsourcing at all.

ER outsourcing’s single biggest advantage, its reason for being, is its goal of a conflict-free workplace. Yes, you heard this correctly. ER outsourcing companies want to stem the sources of conflict that are the very reason for their creation. Working collaboratively with HR (or in the absence of HR, the business) to ascertain the causes of conflict and nip things in the bud faster and more efficiently, dealing swiftly with conflict when it does arise, refreshing policies to keep them future proof, spotting training gaps and sharing learning that can improve the organisation’s culture, their interests are the same as yours: to actively reduce the workload they are paid to take off your hands. Not something most HR outsourcing solutions can claim to want or attempt, or have as their goal.

Sure, an office free of bullies or fraudsters is about as possible as getting a 100% five star engaged workforce. But as a target setting, proactive, best practice sharing – prosourcing, if you like – HR solution, it’s real and out there and will be around long after the hard times are a distant memory.

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