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Employee Records: What’s Appropriate and What’s TMI?

It is hard these days for a company to accurately judge how to present itself to its workforce. We all know how to pitch to customers – that’s the easy part. It’s a lot trickier to sell ourselves to employees.

To be cynical for a moment, it’s a cliche to tell employees (or prospective employees) that “we’re like a big family here”. Quite apart from anything else, it’s almost never true. It’s fair to ask if it ever should be true, too.

Don’t take that the wrong way. If an average working way involves a lot of laughter, energy, and friendship, it goes a long way to making a business tick. Companies should encourage a good environment. But the family ethos belongs in families; not in business. Apart from anything else, there are certain things that are personal to an employee which a business has no right to know.

What Should A Business Know About Its Employees?

There are some things that a business needs to know in order to protect itself and its employees. Health details, although somewhat personal, help a business to support its workforce while also protecting itself.

Criminal record details are also something that a business has a right to know. They have a duty to protect their business and other employees, so have to be careful. This information should not, however, be used in a prejudicial way.

Effective HR software should allow a business to capture the information it needs. Then, at line manager level, if employees feel they have a need to confide about something additional, then it’s up to them to do so.

What Is “TMI” In An Employer/Employee Relationship?

It is sometimes impossible to have a clear boundary between home life and work life. If an employee is going through a divorce, or has a health scare, it may impact their productivity at work. If this is the case, their productivity is what should be raised in any managerial conversation.

Businesses can provide assistance to employees like the above, but this needs to be arrived at by consent. If an employee is noticeably performing below par, it’s fine for an employer to ask: “is there anything we can do to help?”

At this point, the employee can volunteer information or not as they see fit. What’s not okay is for a boss to ask an employee: “are you having trouble in your marriage?” There’s a big difference.

Nor is it acceptable practice to keep detailed information about such a scenario. Instead, record it as: “employee had a week off due to compassion leave”. However, it is not for the business to keep on file the reason for this compassionate leave or notes about marital issues.

As a general rule, record the outcome of the situation but not the situation itself. Anything else seems intrusive, and can be a strong source for office gossip. There are things you have to be aware of about your staff, but don’t take it too far. If you do so, then you will find yourself with a workforce that feels like they are being spied on.

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