HR Headaches Series: Training Employees to Ask Less Questions

In this week’s HR Headaches post, we examine how to give employees the help they need to answer questions themselves.

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Tired of answering the same questions over and over?

HR is essentially a service department: the job is talent acquisition, retention, and management — there to help with the staff’s professional endeavors. The department with “human” in their title is typically the go-to “resource” to answer employee questions, but they can often be repetitive, basic knowledge questions that employees should either know, or know how to access independently.

The time spent on repetitive questions may be nominal in your organization, or it may be a significant drain for HR. If you’re answering the occasional query (and typically from newer staff members) your employees likely have a good grasp on information and how to access it. If your email is loaded and your phone is ringing off the hook routinely, you might want to examine what’s being asked, why it’s being asked, and how to fix the situation.

Need-to-know basics

Do you have materials available to them, in print or online, that offer a “look here first before you call” option?

There may be a good reason employees are constantly calling HR: they may not have resources available to answer questions, from basic to complex. Do you have materials available to them, in print or online, that offer a “look here first before you call” option?

A complete employee handbook that’s easy to use and easy to access is important in every company. Staff members need these resources to:

  • Get their work done
  • Make sure they’re following the rules, and
  • Avail themselves of the benefits and perks your company works hard to offer

If they don’t know the information is there, how can they use it? If they don’t know the policy, how can they abide by it? Too often overlooked, the employee handbook is a critical tool for business and for employees. If you don’t have one, prioritize putting one together and distributing it to staffers stat.

Why ask me? 

If your employee handbooks don’t contain the answers to common questions, it needs an update and redistribution.

Consider the questions you’re being asked routinely and even occasionally. Are all these questions something that should be (or are) in employee handbooks? Do employees have access to their handbook online, or were they issued one for themselves and one for their team or department? If handbooks aren’t available, creating, distributing, and communicating they are a resource to answer questions quickly can reduce your time on the phone and answering emails. If your employee handbooks don’t contain the answers to common questions, it needs an update and redistribution.

Some organizations issue employee handbooks to new hires when they start on the job, which is a great way to help transition. Some organizations forget existing staff may need access to the same information, particularly if the handbook is updated. Whenever there’s an update to the handbook or company policy, make sure to communicate and disseminate the information to all staffers, new and long term.

EFAQs

Tackling the problem today is easy with a small investment in time. Spend a week or two compiling frequently asked questions and compile a company FAQ page or sheet. Post the page on your internal site and keep a copy of the FAQs to email employees when they have a question.

Email

If they email a question that’s on the FAQ sheet/page, respond with a link to the page or a copy of the FAQs and a note that the answer to their question (and others!) is available here. Yes, it takes longer to type that in than it would to respond “Thursdays,” but the investment in retraining them to look it up first is worthwhile in the long run. You may even be able to create an auto response (or a standard signature response) that explains the answer is there.

Calling

If they call with questions, before responding ask if they looked up the answer in their employee handbook or on the FAQ page. If they say yes, (and you know the answer is there) ask them to bring up their copy on their computer (or pull out the print copy) and guide them through finding the answer together. Again, it’s an investment in your time today that will pay off long term.

When employees ask a question, your first response should be, “Did you try to look it up, and if so, where?” If they tell you they looked in the handbook, pull out your copy and ask them to pull out theirs. Talk them through using the index (if there is one) or how to find the page with their answer. Depending on the staff member, they may thank you for helping them use the guide, or be upset you made them help themselves — either way, they may call less frequently in the future.

Getting the word out 

Whether the information is in your handbook or it needs updating, communication is a key next step in creating independent employees who know how to look it up first. While it’s fast to simply respond to questions, retraining employees to find the answer on their own is the long-term goal.

Routinely email employees prompting the employee handbook or FAQ page is a resource that can help them at work. Communicate updates to the handbook or employee FAQ pages whenever they occur. Let people know a new version is out there with a quick note of what’s changing or being added. The occasional “hey did you know?” email to staff members reminding them all their questions are answered in these resources can help them rethink looking first, asking questions second. Bonus points: making these emails fun or entertaining is a great way to capture employee attention and retention of information.

While it’s fast to simply respond to questions, retraining employees to find the answer on their own is the long-term goal.

Big ticket items 

Policy manuals are another resource for staffers. These are typically more detailed than the handbook; less about when payroll is run, more about benefits, legal rights, and responsibilities. Every company should have a policy manual that’s current and accessible to employees. Most companies keep their policy manual in an online format that’s accessible to all staff. Communicate any updates to all staff when they’re issued.

If you’re still using hard copy policy manuals, departments should have their own copy of the manual. Assign a manager to assure employees have access to the team’s copy, and to make sure whenever a new policy is issued or an update is made to an older policy, that person makes the correction to the manual and communicates (in addition to company-wide communications) that the new version is available for employees to read.

When you definitely should go to HR 

Your handbook, policy manual, and/or FAQ guide should have some caveats. Include that employees should definitely come to HR if they’re experiencing:

  • Problems with a manager that are complex and not being resolved
  • Sexual harassment or discrimination: talk to your manager first, but come to HR if the situation isn’t being resolved quickly or satisfactorily, or if you want HR to be informed throughout the process
  • Problems with paychecks or benefits

To solve the endless inquiries, it will be important to examine why staffers keep calling. If information isn’t widely known or easily accessible, that’s on HR to correct. If it wasn’t widely issued and communicated or readily available, or written in language that’s confusing, change should come from HR to give employees the help they need to help themselves. Ensuring the information is out there — and easy for them to find — makes training easy when you stop answering questions and start guiding employees on how to look it up.

Check out our People Ops Podcast episode “What’s the best strategy for when to update our handbook?”

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