Reframing Employee Documentation
No one, other than a few HR professionals, likes to hear the words “employee documentation.” The prevailing view is that documentation is a time-consuming burden, an obligation employers complete only to protect themselves from lawsuits. If employee documentation comes up, it means something has gone wrong. For many employers, this is how documentation works, and it is a symptom of a reactive, disengaged workplace culture.
We’ve seen firsthand what happens when employers face major litigation and realize how poorly equipped they are to fight it because of delayed, sloppy or nonexistent documentation. At a basic level, documentation is a key tool in managing risk.
But what if we reframe documentation as not just a necessary legal precaution, but as a tool for creating a workplace culture rooted in trust and transparency? As an employer, you want employment actions to be taken fairly, from promotions, recognitions, and raises, to discipline and termination. By developing clear policies and documentation processes, employers can demonstrate their honest commitment to fair employment practices and creating a workplace free of harassment, discrimination and bullying,
We should stop viewing documentation as a box that needs to be checked off by the HR department. It’s not something to be trotted out only when there are problems with performance and conduct. Instead it can be a tool to promote accountability and communication among team members working toward shared goals. When employees receive frequent, transparent communication they feel respected and become more invested in their work and their teams. This in turn promotes employee engagement and retention.
Documentation is an opportunity, not a burden.
Another thing to keep in mind that is that documentation is part of a conversation between employer and employee. It is not, and should not be, communication that goes one way. When an employee doesn’t meet expectations, this presents a problem for both the employee and the employer. Employers interested in creating a positive, engaged workplace culture want the employee to contribute ideas to how this problem can be solved. Documentation is a tool for capturing this dialogue. It ensures that an employer clearly communicates expectations, and the employee clearly understands what actions should be taken.
Documentation strategies succeed only when an employer gets buy-in from their managers. If managers resist, it may be because they already have so much on their plate, but it may also be because they don’t know what and how to document. Like anything, documentation is a skill to be learned, and managers often benefit from training and practice.
Some basics to keep in mind:
- Do not delay. You want to capture the most complete and accurate account and not risk forgetting key details. Employers often delay documentation until a certain behavior has been repeated many times, so if there were previous incidents, list those too.
- Be specific. List specific events, incidents, projects. Do not speculate on why something happened. Do not make assumptions about what an employee intended, or include your own commentary. State what happened and no more or no less.
- Record the positive! Documentation is not just a record of poor performance and conduct, but an opportunity to record employees’ successes and achievement as well.
- Be transparent. Performance records and violations of work rules should not come as a surprise to the employee. Discuss these things right away with the employee and then document to capture what happened and the discussion that followed. You may want to include a field in your forms for employees to communicate their own statement or account of the occurrence. Once complete, give the employee a copy to review and sign.
To implement a successful documentation strategy and process, your managers do not need to be trained investigators. Documentation can be as simple as a few bullet points recorded weekly for members of a team. The goal is to make it a regular and routine part of your business operation. When an investigation is needed, your HR department will take the lead.
Many small and mid-sized businesses don’t have an attorney or HR professional on staff who is an expert in employment labor law and conducting employee investigations. These businesses often benefit from outsourcing human resources and risk management functions to Professional Employer Organizations, such as Anthros. Our clients benefit from the experience and expertise of our in-house legal and HR team. Our team can provide customized forms based on client needs, coach managers in documentation best practices, and guide clients through the documentation process.
If you’d like information about how Anthros supports clients with employee documentation, get in touch with our team.