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A guide to most common workplace HR issues and how to deal with them

By 10/02/2017August 31st, 2023Human Resources

No one said HR would be easy, did they? Certainly, if you work within human resources, you’ll know that every day throws up a new challenge – something you’re yet to deal with but which takes up an inordinate amount of your time.

As a result, deadlines are missed, and that ever-growing to-do list keeps… well, growing. There’s always something else screaming for your attention, making each day feel like a constant battle against productivity.

While there’ll always be strange, unusual issues that crop up, there are many common workplace problems that every person operating within a human resources department will have experienced. And if you haven’t yet, you should prepare yourself for that eventuality. If you know what they are, you’ll quickly create an HR utility belt that will always be your saviour.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of the most common workplace HR issues to prepare for and how best to deal with them. Make it your bible and keep it by your side – always.

What are the most common HR issues?

1. Tricky employee queries

It should be remembered that a human resources department acts as an interface between the staff and the business itself. Therefore, any issues relating to employment or disputes should be channelled through HR to ensure fairness and a swift resolution.

Unfortunately, nobody can predict every employee’s question or issue they will raise and get it right every time. Sorry. At some point, you’re going to be asked a question that you’re unprepared for. 

How to deal with tricky questions from employees

The key to dealing with usual requests lies in fast access to meaningful data. With the right HR system in place, organisations can quickly refer to the information that matters when a concern or question is raised. 

Contract variations, wage details or previous disciplinary reports should always be on hand to make query handling as easy as possible and ensure continued positive relationships all round.

Remember – you can answer anything if you have the right data at your fingertips.

2. Low employee retention

There’s nothing worse than spending months (sometimes, years) training an employee only to watch them leave without so much as a backwards glance. It’s a budget killer and puts the organisation right back at square one.

In these situations, the HR team usually have some serious questions to answer, such as: 

  • Why did an employee leave? 
  • Why were they allowed to leave? 
  • How are we going to prevent it from happening again?

There’s no escaping the fact that it is the HR team’s job to protect the employee base. It is, after all, the company’s most valuable asset that should be capable of driving high levels of productivity and retaining an ever-increasing roster of skills.

How to deal with low employee retention 

Remuneration, incentives and culture are the three things you need to focus on to improve employee retention. Wages should be fair, consistent, and in line with market expectations; incentives should be inventive (an unexpected trip to the cinema is often more valued than a bonus swallowed up by the taxman). Finally, the culture should foster a genuine love of the company.

The more wanted an employee feels, the more likely they are to build an emotional connection with the business, and such feelings proliferate – quickly.

3. Drops in productivity

Productivity either happens, or it doesn’t – it’s that simple. Unfortunately, the stuff that keeps us from being productive isn’t always that obvious. It can creep up unawares and, before you know it, set the business back further than you’d think possible. This is a common workplace issue that needs to be dealt with quickly.

How to deal with a productivity drop

Staff within your organisation may be suffering from low productivity levels but be entirely unaware of it. That’s why the first step in rectifying this is to identify where it is taking place. Understand which departments are suffering from poor output, and then trace the source to a particular employee or group of employees.

Once low productivity points are identified, HR professionals can go about rectifying them. A simple ‘time and motion’ study can be carried out to review how tasks are performed and who is in charge of their completion. Inefficiencies will quickly become apparent during this process, as will any lingering personnel issues. 

Sometimes a productivity issue will have nothing to do with the business and everything to do with what an employee is going through in their personal life. Where this is the case, the HR department needs to find a way to support that employee and help get them back on track.

Often, increased motivation or additional training may be the only thing required to boost productivity, but a proper study will also reveal areas in which investment or further recruitment is needed.

4. Health and safety issues

Combining the term ‘health and safety’ with ‘documentation’ is a surefire way to ensure that employees take little to no interest in their workplace safety. Often, an employee won’t consider the ramifications or simply ‘take a chance’, assuming that nothing bad will happen. 

The last thing a business needs or wants is an injured employee. While the most important thing is the wellness and safety of colleagues, there are also additional consequences of a workplace injury, including a dip in productivity and potential legal action being taken against the company.  

How to deal with workplace health and safety issues

This is a perennial problem for HR teams, but it is fixable. The answer lies in creating health and safety rules, regulations and supporting documentation that is fair and – most importantly – engaging. 

Try swapping lengthy policy documents for more visual aids and throw out rules that simply shouldn’t apply in the modern age. In doing so, the workplace should become a far safer place to be.

5. Discrimination and lack of inclusivity

It’s a shame to have to include this in a post about common workplace HR issues, but, unfortunately, there’s no escaping the fact that inclusivity and discrimination remain key problems in business. Therefore, companies should actively work to combat workplace discrimination and strive for inclusivity always. 

How to build inclusivity

Modern organisations should have some form of policy relating to inclusivity within the workplace, so if yours hasn’t, creating one should be your starting point. With that policy in place, you’ll always have something to turn to in the event of a workplace issue. This makes it fair for all and ensures there are no grey areas that are open to interpretation.

It’s sensible to record demographic data when bringing on new hires. Make it part of the recruitment process, and you’ll quickly build a business that demonstrates its commitment to inclusivity.

How to combat discrimination

Ensure that every incident involving discrimination is fully recorded and stored for future reference. No one likes being accused of intentional unfairness, but every claim must be recorded and stored. There’s no movement on this point. 

6. Disciplinary action

Disciplinary action against an employee is something that every HR team will have to face eventually. It’s an uncomfortable experience for everybody involved, but also necessary. 

How to deal with disciplinary action

Thankfully, this is an easy one – unless you make it difficult for yourself. Every incident that requires a disciplinary process should tread the same path. Keep records of communication, follow company procedures and make absolutely no exceptions, except in the most extreme of circumstances.

Disciplinary processes are only the bane of HR departments if they’re open to interpretation or not followed correctly. Make life easy for yourself by keeping things consistent.

7. Recruitment

Finding the right people is incredibly challenging. With more and more workers deciding to go it alone and work in a freelance capacity and the digital marketplace offering multiple recruitment channels, obtaining talent is perhaps more challenging than it has ever been.

How to deal with recruitment problems

If you’re still relying on older recruitment methods (for example, newspaper advertising), you need to start spreading your wings a little further. 

Get social. When looking for new people, advertise the position on LinkedIn and scout forums and groups for people who might make the grade.

Far from being more time-consuming, this method of recruitment is rather enjoyable and addictive. The best people are out there, and if you sniff them out yourself, you’ll save a significant amount of time interviewing the wrong people.

How Natural HR can help you combat human resource issues

In this guide, we’ve listed seven of what we believe to be the most common workplace human resource issues. Of course, there are more, but those above will crop up most readily. 

Thankfully, you now have all you need to tackle them head-on, reduce the number of occurrences and ensure you can help build a business that has a productive, happy workforce at its heart.


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