The Productivity Advice HR Professionals Should Ignore

Google “productivity advice,” and you’ll see thousands of articles offering tips on how to get more done in a day at the office. Almost every single one of them recommends only checking email at predetermined times to prevent incoming messages from distracting you from the task at hand.

That may make sense for some professionals, but it’s advice I ask our client-facing reps to ignore. In fact, our policy is to respond to client emails and phone calls within three hours, if at all possible – and certainly no later than the next business day. Here’s why I push this counterintuitive policy and how it can improve outcomes for any HR consultant or in-house team.

Responsiveness builds goodwill

Research on the public sector shows that when a governing body is responsive, citizens tend to participate more. And those in customer service know that customers who feel taken care of tend to be more loyal.

These findings matter for HR professionals because the services you provide are somewhere between a government and a vendor: employees are a bit like constituents and a bit like clients. In any company, they’re the most important and valuable asset.

When you treat employees as if they’re your valued clients or constituents and return their phone calls or reply to their emails as quickly as possible, you send the message that their concerns are important and that you want to address those concerns. Crucially, you also condition them to expect a quick response.

Quick responses allow for quick resolutions

Not every problem can be resolved easily, but when your employees expect you to respond quickly to a call or email, they’ll be more likely to come to you with small matters. When they’re conditioned to expect a delay of several days, they may opt not to contact you unless they have a serious problem (that might have already caused serious damage).

The former scenario is almost always preferable: when you’re regularly hearing about small problems, you have a better chance at addressing them before they come big ones. That doesn’t just make your job easier, it helps the whole company run better.

Human engagement amplifies great tech

HR software that simplifies or streamlines the administrative part of HR work can be a productivity game changer in any HR department. But tech alone can be frustrating for employees, especially when they have a specific or unusual question.

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By combining great software with responsive HR professionals, you can offer your employees the best of both worlds: streamlined tech solutions with a human touch. When you approach HR in this way, you also demonstrate for leadership the value of the “human” side of human resources, which is increasingly important as HR tech solutions gain popularity.

How to build a culture of responsiveness

Whether you’re leading an internal HR team or working in a PEO or consulting role, you can start building a culture of responsiveness by doing three things:

  1. Include “responding to employee questions” as a prominent part of a job description. This reinforces the idea that responsiveness is a core job duty, rather than something that gets in the way of other, more predictable responsibilities.
  2. Measure your team’s performance. Nothing communicates importance quite like measurement. When your team knows that you’ll be looking at the exact number of minutes, hours (or days) it takes them to answer employee questions, they’ll be much more likely to follow through with guidelines you lay out.
  3. Build responsiveness into your mission. I like to think of Mark Twain’s advice: “Always do right: you will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Including a goal of responsiveness in your larger mission will help you follow that advice – and grow a base of delighted employees or clients in the process.
Bob Cerone

Bob Cerone is the founder and CEO of Cognos HR, a Chicago-based PEO and HR consulting firm that specializes in serving small and midsize businesses. He is an active mentor for leaders of early-stage companies and the Midwest Leadership Chair for the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO).