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How to Manage and Answer Employee Questions

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    Employee questions must be answered quickly, adequately and transparently to build trust among your workforce and align talent with organization goals. But rushing through concerns, overexplaining or missing questions can spur disengagement and, potentially, turnover. Read how the right tech and a solid strategy for assessing employee questions helps HR serve as a renewable resource to empower your people.

    Think about the last time you submitted a question to or requested information from an online store. Chances are, if the retailer didn’t respond within a few days, you’d look for what you need elsewhere.

    It’s similar with employee questions, too, except with way higher stakes. Every hour a worker waits for the answers they need compromises the trust in their employer and their satisfaction overall.

    Today’s businesses need to set a precedent for clear, consistent and reliable employee communication as soon as a new hire starts. At the same time, your people should feel empowered to ask questions through an easy-to-use tool that works within the HR tech they engage with every day.

    How do you create an environment where employees feel heard and motivated? We’ll answer that question by showing you how to receive, manage and respond to workforce inquiries with confidence.

    Why is it important to effectively communicate with employees?

    Without frequent and transparent communication, employees can’t reasonably rely on their employer to provide help when needed. At the same time, poor communication makes it hard for talent to work toward large, organizational goals.

    According to an October 2022 Pollfish survey of 1,000 U.S. employees commissioned by Paycom, respondents said the top five reasons they quit were:

    1. poor management
    2. low compensation
    3. weak benefits
    4. little appreciation
    5. lack of support

    The first, fourth and fifth reasons can directly relate to the quality and consistency of communication employees receive. Regular correspondence isn’t just a courtesy — it’s an indispensable tool to combat turnover.

    And keeping more people is a top concern for most in HR. In a separate Pollfish survey commissioned by Paycom in September 2023, 57% of HR pros listed employee retention as their highest priority for 2024. Likewise, over half (51%) of those surveyed cited talent retention as their biggest challenge.

    While no single way to prevent turnover exists, effectively answering employee questions can help deliver the supportive environment your people need to thrive.

    5 strategies to effectively field employee questions

    While the optimal way to respond to an employee will rely on their unique role and personality, you first need a solid foundation to get there. Consider these basic strategies to help you establish clear, frequent communication with your workforce.

    1. Create dedicated support channels

    Imagine trying to pour oil or wiper fluid into your car without a funnel. Even the savviest gearheads would have trouble ensuring every drop goes exactly where it should go. Employee questions work similarly in that they need to be directed toward a clear channel.

    A policy that outlines where and how employees should direct their questions is a great start. This direction should include:

    • where employees should submit their questions
    • how employees should submit their questions (i.e., through email, messenger or another method)
    • who employees should expect a response from

    Taking this a step further, software to automatically organize and direct employee questions takes the burden of manually sorting inquiries off HR.

    Instead, the department can develop the best possible responses or provide support to the ideal person to answer employees. Meanwhile, your people enjoy the freedom to ask questions anytime, anywhere through the same HR tech they regularly use.

    2. Define expectations

    In tandem with building dedicated support channels, employees should have a clear understanding of when their questions should be answered. While a short grace period is understandable, not responding to inquiries over extended periods of time can disengage employees and harm their focus.

    HR teams for larger organizations and enterprises may find it hard to stay on top of a wave of questions. Indeed suggests the ideal HR pro to employee ratio is 1.4 for every 100 workers. (Or about three HR pros for every 200 employees.) Maintaining this balance could be tough for quickly growing companies. Even so, that doesn’t mean employees should expect their questions to go unanswered.

    Again, the right tool to sort and manage employee questions will significantly help HR address a flood of submissions. However, even with tech to help, you should still let employees know when they can expect a response.

    Start by acknowledging receipt of their question within one business day. If their question has a clear answer, that can serve as an acknowledgement of their receipt instead. If the question is a bit more complicated, make it clear employees should expect a follow-up within one to two business days. If any factor would further delay a response, let them know why.

    Even if the eventual answer doesn’t fully satisfy an employee, they’ll at least appreciate correspondence that ensures their question is prioritized and considered.

    3. Use the right technology

    Inevitably, employees will ask similar or identical questions to their peers. Forcing HR to repeatedly answer the same inquiry consumes their time and spurs inconsistency among responses.

    To avoid needless delays and ensure consistency, invest in a tool that can automatically respond to commonly asked employee questions. If the question relates to something like a long-standing dress code or when benefits enrollment starts, the right software should be capable of quickly responding and providing employees supplemental resources.

    Your tech should also empower employees to effectively filter their own questions by allowing them to select topics and categories before submitting their inquiry. That way, it’s even easier to ensure employee questions flow to the best person to answer them.

    4. Promote transparency

    Simply giving employees a tool to ask questions isn’t enough. They need to know the answers they receive will be honest, informed and transparent. Likewise, your people should feel comfortable sharing as much background info as possible without shame or reluctance.

    Creating a space where employees ask questions with full candor takes time and consistent effort. Even so, setting a strong precedent with new hires about how all questions have value — and proving it with punctual and reliable responses — helps foster a healthier and more transparent workplace.

    5. Provide exceptional training

    People will always ask questions, true. But giving them insightful and engaging training can help offset inquiries about basic job functions and other policies that should already be abundantly clear.

    Plus, proper training helps more experienced employees serve as resources to their immediate peers. And when fellow workers can confidently answer their colleagues’ questions, it strengthens the bond among teams and stokes a sense of belonging. Consider adopting a mentoring program to help normalize this process and provide new hires with a more personable outlet to address their initial questions.

    6 tips to manage and answer employee questions

    Once you’ve established a protocol for employees to submit questions and receive answers, you can focus on improving the quality of those responses. Remember, providing the exact answer an employee needs may come down to the individual, but striving for consistency and transparency will help your team generate the best responses for a large staff.

    Keep these six tips in mind as you manage and answer your workforce’s questions.

    1. Explain the necessary solution

    While your answer should be direct, you should provide enough material for employees to extrapolate their own understanding. Avoid condescending language like “per the employee handbook” or “this was explained during onboarding.” At the same time, don’t deprive employees of a helpful resource and, more importantly, a reason for why something might not be as they expected.

    For example, if a new employee thought their paid time off would accrue faster, explain that higher accruals are based on tenure (if that’s your policy, of course). If an employee doesn’t understand how qualifying life events relate to benefits enrollment, give them practical examples instead of only listing the IRS’s definition.

    Every answer employees receive should have the secondary effect of reinforcing that their questions are opportunities to learn and engage with their employer.

    2. Don’t take over the issue

    Employees value autonomy. While your answers should provide them with valuable insight, be careful not to deprive them of an opportunity to learn more. Ultimately, your answers should serve as a resource and provide clarity. However, if an employee asks a question like, “Which benefit should I choose?” or “When would be the best time for me to take a vacation?” simply give them information to help choose for themselves.

    3. Bridge the knowledge gap by referring to an expert

    HR pros should maintain substantial institutional knowledge. Even so, they won’t be capable of answering every question. Inquiries related to career growth, tax implications and other more specialized topics should be referred to an expert within your company or the employee’s supervisor.

    However, if you need to refer to an expert, let the employee know you’re redirecting their question. This will at least let them know that their submission is being handled with care and diffuse concern over any half-hearted or ill-informed answer.

    4. Show and teach

    If an employee is looking for a tutorial or a best practice for a routine process like punching in or completing a performance review, try to avoid overexplaining or reiterating something they already know. Certain people learn better visually, so make a point to show employees how to accomplish something, rather than just telling them.

    In most cases, it could be hard for HR to demonstrate something to one employee at a time. If you receive regular questions about a certain practice, considering making a video that you can later provide to employees to simplify the process. If employees still have questions, it might help to ask where they specifically encounter issues. Doing so may reveal a blind spot HR wasn’t aware of, such as an unexpected glitch or another roadblock.

    5. Promote self-clarification

    HR should help employees help themselves. Don’t be afraid to answer questions with more questions if they allow the employee to better understand how they arrived at an issue. Education isn’t a linear, one-way street. It requires a conversation.

    While not every question will demand an in-depth answer, employees should know that what they ask should promote their growth and independence within the organization. This doesn’t mean you should withhold information, but you should give employees what they need to consider the best way forward for themselves.

    6. Champion self-service software

    You likely understand that a tool for sorting and routing employee questions is indispensable. But this tech works even better when it operates within the same single software your people use to manage all their HR data.

    Even before an employee considers submitting a question, they should feel encouraged to engage with their HR tech to find the answers they need first. Of course, this requires empowering them with a self-service experience that’s as easy to navigate as it is engaging.

    Your people should be able to quickly find the answers to most of their questions, but even if they can’t, engaging with their self-service software will at least ensure that question emerged from the resources they have available and a genuine place of curiosity.

    HR won’t be able to eliminate employee questions — and it really shouldn’t. Ultimately, a healthy influx of inquiries means employees care enough to find answers and trust their employer to answer them. With the right strategy and software at your side, you won’t let them down.

    Employee questions: FAQ

    Why is communication important with employees?

    Regularly communicating with employees allows them to feel heard and helps you align their perspective with organizational goals. It also helps eliminate stress-inducing confusion and fosters a sense of trust.

    What tools help to answer employee questions?

    A tool like Paycom’s Ask Here is ideal for routing employees’ questions and pulling HR out of meticulous and manual sorting. The tech empowers employees to ask questions anytime, anywhere and automatically routes inquiries to the right person in your organization to answer them. Plus, all conversations are stored in one secure dashboard, and customizable templates and stored answers allow you to further streamline your policy for addressing employee questions.

    Who should be responsible for managing employee questions?

    While HR typically manages employee questions, the best person to answer them depends on the nature of the inquiry itself. Ideally, HR will have access to multiple point people to quickly route questions to, provided the best answer falls out of HR’s scope.

    Can chatbots answer employee questions?

    Technically yes, but their response may feel impersonal and apathetic regardless of how fast an employee receives an answer. Automated responses should be used for commonly asked questions, but employees should always know that a real HR pro is always ready to assist them.

    Explore Paycom’s resources to learn more about employee engagement, HR strategy and more.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.