Ep. 55

Employee Labor Relations: More Than Policies w/ Heather Anderson

In episode 55, we talk with Heather Anderson about her insights on the importance of employee labor relations.
Heather Anderson

Heather Anderson

HR Manager
SP Plus Corporation

Bargaining, unions, contracts, arbitration, compliance. If you Google “employee labor relations,” you’ll be hit with a wave of downright scary terms. But when you focus on the human element—instead of fixating on legal issues–employee labor relations becomes something positive. On this week’s episode of the HR Mavericks podcast, Heather Anderson, HR Manager at SP Plus Corporation, shared her insights on the importance of employee labor relations. She emphasized that when you’re passionate about people, you can make an impact on your company’s employees and upper management alike.

Here are a few things we discussed:

  • What employee labor relations means
  • How to respond when people come to you with problems
  • Making your office a safe space for employees to vent
  • The importance of strong communication
  • Why trust is the foundation of strong business relationships
  • How HR can work with senior leadership effectively
  • Tips to help HR professionals avoid burnout

Steven Farber’s article “DISC Personality Assessments” and his HR Mavericks podcast episode

Michael Sorensen’s book, I Hear You

Episode 55 Transcript

You’re listening to HR Mavericks, a weekly podcast, featuring leading small business HR professionals who share their experiences and insights to help you know how to turn your HR processes and employee experience into a strategic business advantage. Let’s get into the show. 

Garrett Jestice: Welcome to the next episode of HR Mavericks. I’m Garrett Jestice. And today I’m joined by Heather Anderson, who’s an HR manager at SP plus corporation and a super active member of our HR Mavericks community. Heather, how you doing today?

Heather Anderson: I am doing phenomenal, Garrett. How are you?

Garrett Jestice: I’m doing great. It’s great to have you here.

I know before we jumped on, you know, we had a little bit of the Monday blues drama happen before, which all of us ha have happened sometimes. Right. But glad, glad to hear the positivity. And we’re super excited to have you on the show. 

Heather Anderson: Yeah, I got my Mountain Dew and we’re good to go. Good. 

Garrett Jestice: Well, before we jump into our topic, tell our listeners just a little bit more about you and what you know, your, your, about your background and also what your company does.

Heather Anderson: For sure. so I am Heather Anderson. I am an HR enthusiast. I love HR. And I stumbled onto it totally by accident. But currently I am a HR manager for SP plus corporation, which we are all throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico. And, we do parking revenue. Everywhere. So I am currently stationed out at the Salt Lake International airport, which is really cool because we just got a whole bunch of awesome stuff in and we are now, I wanna say the largest airport that does dynamic pricing.

So you can actually go online to the Salt Lakes website and pay for your parking in advance and you get discounted rates, which is awesome. It saves so much money for people that travel. So that’s exciting. And then I also, freelance with HR Mavericks, which I’m absolutely obsessed with. I love the community.

I’m currently also a freelance mentor for a startup company called Level Next, if you’re not following them on LinkedIn, you should. . . And then I also serve on the board of directors for Utah State, for the Society for Human Resource Management. 

Garrett Jestice: Awesome. So we are so excited to have you on the show and I’ll put it on plug too.

If you haven’t been to the Salt Lake Airport recently, tons of updates are going on there too. That was not only just the website, but man, the building it’s it’s gonna take forever isn’t it to finish, but 

Heather Anderson: oh, it’s, it’s gorgeous. It’s awesome. I wanna say that they’ve, they’re planning currently, and this changes day to day, but currently I’ve heard 2026 .

Yeah. 

Garrett Jestice: So you just have to have your walking shoes on right to walk. Yeah. Super far between the massive concourses, 

Heather Anderson: But it’s gorgeous and there’s beautiful artwork. So, I mean, you have beautiful scenery, but they do have a little shuttle now between concourses A and B B. So if you’re not up for the hike, you can take a nice scenic drive.

Garrett Jestice: Good. That’s awesome. Well, we’re, like I said, we’re super excited to have you on the show today and really to dive into a topic that I know you are super passionate about, which is employee labor relations. So to, to kind of start us off on this topic first, tell us. What it is. And second, tell us why you’re so passionate about this topic.

Heather Anderson: Sure. So employee labor relations, in its very basic form, it is simply the relationship between the employee and the employer, with the word labor kind of alluding to the work that the employees do or who they work for, but it’s such a broad topic. And especially for the new HR practitioner.

That HR term or that term alone can be very confusing, can be very daunting. And it sounds very legal-ease. so 

Garrett Jestice: Compliance heavy, right? 

Heather Anderson: Yes. Yes, absolutely. And when you even Google it, like when you pull up, pictures of it, there’s words like bargaining and unions and contracts and mediation and collectives and compliance, arbitration, laws, policies, and yes, those are all a big part of it, but it is not as scary as it sounds.

And that’s something that, I really just want to be able to, to change that perspective on it. Employee relations is so much more than just those words. I mean, yes, those words are very important. You definitely wanna take them seriously and do them correctly and effectively, but ultimately it comes down to encompassing everything from your recruitment to, your your day to day interactions with your employees. Yeah. Their overall daily experience, how they feel about you and the employer every day. Yeah. It’s that culture it’s that DEI and them being able to come in and be their authentic self when they come to work. Yeah. And the people that they’re around and knowing that they’re safe and that they’re cared for.

And that they’re understood and that’s a, a huge part of, of that employee relations is being that advocate, being that person to help, them understand things. You know, you look at the policies and procedures and, and there’s just a lot there that you have to help them with on a day to day basis.

And it’s, it’s not all negative. It’s a, it’s a huge positive. It helps build that, that trust and, and, you know, helping to change that perspective. You know, I was told when I got into HR, it comes with a set of horns and I’m like, well, I work at the local haunted house, fear factory, and I’ve been there for since 2013 and I’m like, I’ve got three pairs in my closet. so, I mean, we’re good. Like , you know, so it’s, it’s changing that perspective of, having HR be that department that they can go to, to vent, to have that safe venting zone, that they can trust to help get stuff done. , you know, and that we will absolutely be their advocates and help them understand. And provide that positive working environment for them. 

Garrett Jestice: Yeah. I really like that. And I think that, you know, you started off by talking about if you were to just Google the term employee labor relations, a lot of the things that you see are inherently a little negative, right? Yeah. But I, but I really like that you kind of ended on that point of trust because really it, to me it’s really about there’s two sides to that coin.

Yes, you have to make sure that you’re taking care of the company and the company’s interest, but also the employees, right? Tho those workers who are there and you’re kind of that mediator there to help both get what they want, out of this contract that they’ve entered into and help both have, you know, great output.

Great results, great experiences along the way. And so I think I really like how you pointed that out, because I think there are definitely two sides to that. Sometimes you can focus so much on the negative or the legal or the compliance aspect that you forget the human side of it, which is equally, if not more important, right?

Heather Anderson: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. 

Garrett Jestice: So Heather, I wanna ask you, I wanna sidetrack a little bit. I wanna come back to this in a minute, but you, you mentioned at the very beginning, how much you love, HR, right? Yes. And like, you can, you can see it in you as you talk about this topic. So tell us a little bit more about that.

I wanna understand, that what got you into HR and really what’s kept you in it. Why do you love it so much? And then we’ll come back to our topic. 

Heather Anderson: Fair enough. So funny story, I had. So I grew up in law enforcement. Like my family is very rooted here in Utah. You know, my father founded a couple cities.

They worked for a local county. You know, like my whole family’s just very much. So I grew up believing in that justice, you know, that bad guys are gonna get put away, you know, and the good guys will prevail and, obviously that’s a whole other topic, but , , that’s kind of what instilled in me. So I ended up working in security for a really long time, which was so much fun.

I did loss prevention, things like that. Then I actually switched gears and went to transportation for 10 years and my security company brought me back and hired me as their HR with the, executive assistant at the time was my old HR manager. Hm. And she was by far the cutest old lady, she fired my ex-husband five times and he praises that woman to tomorrow. Like, she is like the I’m like hashtag goals. If I can fire someone that many times and they still love me, I’m doing my job. Right. Yeah. And she was just such an inspiration. And I realized when I got in there, just how much of a difference I could make.

Yeah. Like it wasn’t just a, a saying anymore. Like I hear the employees and I could do something about it. And how cool is that? And it took my love of people and my love of law and it molded it into this perfect, beautiful awesomeness. And I was like, all right, okay. So this is what I’m doing. I’m going full bore.

So I was actually, going to school to get my marketing degree, and I switched that over to HR management, which I’m really excited to graduate with my bachelor’s this year, which is fun. Congrats. It’s awesome. Thanks. It’s been wonderful. I’ve been, and the best part is, is like when you learn something and you can actually implement it in your day to day, I’m like, Win 

And then I, LinkedIn stalked a bunch of people that looked super important from SHRM. And I was like, you should be my friend and I’ve met some of the most amazing people. Local celebrity here in Utah is Joe Tate works with GBS and he’s, one of the founders of Boost HR. He’s amazing. I would not be where I am today without him.

And, then my friend Elisa Garn was the president of SHRM. She helped me substantially and now she’s the, the CEO and founder of Level Next. And so she’s just really pushing that HR and it’s such. An amazing experience to be around people who are just as passionate about people. As I am and it’s infectious.

And it’s just amazing. 

Garrett Jestice: I love it. You can see that, you know that how much you love it. And I think that goes a long way. So, and I think that is like a perfect tie in to our topic, right? Because we bring it back to this topic of employee labor relations. Again, you know, it should be centered on that love of people and helping them be successful.

And when they’re successful, it’s the company’s successful also. And it’s just kind of this win-win right. So yes, kind of coming back to this topic, a little bit of employee labor relations, what are some common issues that, you know, HR managers out there should be aware of when it comes to this topic of employee labor relations.

Heather Anderson: So the number one, my, the biggest one I could not stress enough is communication. Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate. Be as transparent as possible. And this is something that. You know, there are, there are a lot of awesome suggestions and a lot of different articles about different employee relations over on the HR Mavericks.

So if you haven’t gone in and looked at those, do it, cuz they are phenomenal. And you get different perspectives. I have always worked in industries that you can’t do them. Like I have been in industries where they are 24 7, 365 you have to be in person and that creates a whole different set of challenges.

But with where I’m at now, it’s beautiful because of the diversity that we have in our workforce, but with that comes exceptional challenges. So it’s like the coolest thing ever to see all these different cultures and nationalities and the, just the, the pure diversity of these amazing people. 

But it creates their own set of challenges. So you’ve got communication has to be there and you have to be able to build that relationship with your, with your staff and make sure that they feel safe coming to talk to you. So your communication is key. What you say to a group of people everyone’s gonna take differently.

So make sure that if there’s someone you need to pull aside separately, do so like you make, make sure that they’re understanding cause in HR, it doesn’t matter what the intent is. It’s a, all about how it’s received. And you want to make sure that you’re there. So with the employee labor relations, a lot of things you’re gonna have are gonna be complaints and grievances and when they come to you, I always like to tell my people, my office can be a safe venting zone if you need it. But let me know first. I’d rather them come into my office and vent to me. Than do something out there that causes another problem. I want them to know this is a safe venting zone because there’s truth in that anger.

Yeah. There’s truth in that frustration that you are not gonna normally get. And in those situations, don’t try to fix the problem right then. , validate their feelings. Which is very different than agreeing from them. You can totally disagree or they could totally be not even anywhere near in the round ballpark of being correct, but validate their feelings.

And if you need a good book about validation, I strongly suggest, Michael S Sorenson’s. I hear you. Hmm. And it’s called The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships. And it’s all about validation. And he does it in not just work context, but in the home as well. Cool. Which has helped me substantially in my personal relationships.

But it talks about that stuff because when you have an employee that comes into your office, even if they’re wrong, they just need to vent and you have validated their feelings. They leave your office feeling like, oh my gosh, they listened to me. They cared. They understood me. Yeah. And then if you need to go back a little bit later when they’re not upset and be like, okay, I looked into it for you.

I just wanted to clear some things up for you and make sure you understood these policies or make sure you understood the situation. Or I let me clear up this miscommunication and that in itself can resolve so many issues from escalating. You would be shocked. But you also have to be able to do that with your management team as well.

 Cause I, I have quite the diverse team of, of managers and senior leaderships that I’ve worked with over the years and they do not all communicate the same way Uhhuh. If you haven’t checked out, I wanna say it’s Steven Farber’s The, The Hero Culture. He uses the disc assessment with the different birds about owls and parrots.

And that’s a phenomenal thing. You should totally check him out, but it absolutely. 

Garrett Jestice: We had him on here. Yeah. We had him on here for a podcast where he talked about on a previous episode. So yeah’s yes. So true. 

Heather Anderson: Go check it out because it, it is, I am a parrot I total parrot, quite a bit of dove and. It is very different because I work with an Eagle and I have to tailor myself sometimes.

But we have a lot of owls out there too. And. You know, I have some very strong dove managers and it, it really does make a difference in how you communicate with them. Yeah. But I would say it’s something that I’m willing to take that extra effort to go that extra mile, to make sure that I’m communicating effectively with my management so that I can give them, solid advice.

 Even if that advice it depends. Let me go check on that. Yep. Yep. And then be able to take that back to my employees and say, Hey, I checked this out for you. Yeah. Here you go. 

Garrett Jestice: That’s so good, man. There’s so much good stuff in what you just mentioned that, one of the things that stood out to me the most is it goes back to in my mind what we were talking about the very beginning about trust and the only way that you can really build trust, trust someone, is through communication. You know what I mean? Like as you build a relationship, as they know that you have their back, as you’re willing to just listen and let them vent at times, it builds trust and trust is the core piece to giving people the benefit of the doubt. So many issues I think in the workplace can just be, could have been solved if there was better communication that led to stronger trust, right?

If, and we could remind ourselves. You know, everyone is well intentioned and there, there, might have been some other context behind, you know, what may have happened or whatnot. So really the trust piece is really what it comes back to for me. And I think that communication is just the way to build that.

Heather Anderson: Yes. That, and don’t assume. Never, ever, ever assume. Uh, especially when you’re dealing with certain things like sexual harassment cases, , . Oh, the stories I could tell you . There are times where it is absolutely a textbook case and I’m like, are you serious? And I have to fire you right now because why are you doing this?

Come on, where’s your human decency. Then there are other times where it really was just an AB conversation and somebody came in on the back end and did not understand anything. And here you go. I’ve I’ve seen across the whole spectrum. And even with all the investigations I’ve done, never, ever, ever, ever assume that, you know, what’s going on, you know?

Yeah. Get all the evidence, talk to all the people and just let the, and just listen. Yeah. Like don’t, don’t try to correct them. Don’t try and, you know, like, cause then they’re gonna shut down on you and then you lose a bit of that trust cuz they get defensive. They don’t wanna talk to you. You have to just be open and be there for them.

And if you have to circle back around with them later, when they’re not super emotional, so you can get, you know, correct or take care of any actionable items, then do that. Yep. Because then you’re gonna continue to hold that trust so sacred. Yep. You know? It’s it’s important. 

Garrett Jestice: It’s good. Awesome.

Awesome. So we talked, you know, about really that idea of communication being one of the common issues that, you know, a lot of people face. What about like, what are some suggestions that you have on how to really improve that employer labor relationship, 

Heather Anderson: Educate yourself. Okay. Super, super important. You can’t help people without helping yourself first and that goes across all spectrums, like HR burnout right now is so crazy prevalent. Yeah. Oh my good Lord. And sometimes you have to just take a step back. You know, we were joking the other day about how, you know, our, our schedules quote unquote says that we work 40 hours and we all giggled and we’re like, really is that a thing.

You know, around the clock, take care of yourself and invest in yourself. Never stop learning, never stop growing. And don’t take all the answers. You, you, you don’t have to have all the answers, you know, go out and, and talk to your community. You know, which HR Mavericks is a, oh, where was this when I first started in HR, you know, when I went back to my security team, I was an HR department of one.

I had 450 employees across three states. And. It was crazy. It was a huge learning curve. And I had to depend on my managers to help me. And I wished that there had been something like this out there at that time, but, you know, there you look into LinkedIn and, and there’s lots of groups and things like that, but honestly the best I’ve seen has been the HR Maverick.

So I can’t thank you guys enough for putting this together, cuz this has been so huge, where you can reach out to these guys and go to these different, you know, encyclopedia entries and ask your questions and get legit answers back from people who have been there, done that, got the t-shirt and you can, you know, really reach.

And that’s probably one of the biggest things you can do that and just, listen, listen, listen to your people, spend time with them, even if that means that you schedule time in your week to just go out and be with them. I know that sounds totally anti productive and your deadlines are gonna scream at you later, but legit do it and, and be, be humble.

Like you be transparent. Follow up. When you say you’re gonna follow up, if you don’t know something flat out, admit it they will appreciate your honesty. Yeah. But that’s probably the, the biggest things that you can do to, to really improve those. And then make sure that you’re, it’s not just all about the employees.

It’s about your senior leadership. So as much effort as you put into your, your employees and your frontline and your supervisors put that same amount of effort into your managers as well. Yep. Because their employees too. Yep. You know, and they’re the ones that can help get things done. They can get, you can get your buy in from them, brainstorm with them, come to them with potential solutions.

Yeah. Like it, they, people don’t like people who just throw problems at them. Yeah. You know, like one of my, one of my top strengths, with strengths finder is, restorative. And that’s something that I’m always super conscious of is like, ooh, I found all these problems. How do I solve them? Yeah. You know, cause I don’t wanna just go up and be like, Hey, so these things are wrong, Uhhuh.

I wanna bring something to the table, even if they tell me that it’s stupid and we’re not doing that. At least I brought something then nothing, but it starts that conversations. And you can bring to them like, hey, you know, we are hearing that there’s some communication issues. What are you guys actually doing?

Like, are they just not paying attention or, you know, like try and find the, the root of the problem and then see what you can do to help support your managers, help support your senior leaderships, you know, like the whole name, human resources. We are that resource for humans. Yep. We, we need to put humans back in human resource, you know, we’re there for people.

And that includes all, all levels. Yeah. All levels. So you wanna make sure that you’re, you’re looking for those, those little cogwheels or those little connecting pieces and be that driving communication force to help make sure that what senior leadership says can be translated into, words and phrases that your frontline will understand and vice versa.

Yeah. Cause no matter where you go, the higher up the food chain, you get the more, you know, the more you get disconnected from what they do on a day to day basis. And and, it’s, it’s not a bad thing. It’s just an is thing. We need to remind them sometimes. Yeah, that’s good. And, and give that feedback cuz not, not everybody hears it, but you have to say it the right way.

You have to communicate correctly to get things accomplished and get things done. 

Garrett Jestice: That’s really what it means to be a business partner, right. For, to partner with some of those business leaders for the business and be that intermediary between sometimes that the leadership and the frontline, like you said, so, yeah, I think that’s awesome.

And thank you for the plug for HR Mavericks. I’m glad that you’re finding it super valuable and definitely would encourage anyone who’s interested to check out not only the podcast, but also the encyclopedia join our slack group, where you can connect with other people, you know, just like Heather and ask questions and share some of your insights and what you’re seeing and learning too.

That was the whole idea behind it. We wanna democratize HR knowledge and best practices, especially for those small businesses that needed the most. So, Heather, thank you so much for taking this time today for this conversation. It has been awesome. And I think we probably we could go another hour on this topic, because there’s so much more to talk about.

We know we just scratched the surface here, but love your passion about this topic. And I think that there were some really good nuggets and what we talked about today that hopefully people can take back and apply in their own businesses. So as we get ready to wrap up here, one of the last questions I like to ask, all of our guests that come on is just what’s one tip, what’s one thing you think that our listeners should do this week to improve their HR or people functions. 

Heather Anderson: Tell your people thank you. I love bring out that positivity. I mean, we go day to day dealing with problems all the time. Take the time to go out and just say thank you. Cause your business would not be there without them.

Yeah, it would not make money without them. We would not have jobs or careers. Or passions without them. Yep. Show your appreciation. You will be surprised just how they have in their day. 

Garrett Jestice: I love it, such a great tip. And I think it comes back to what you were just saying a minute ago is putting the human back in human relations.

Right. So I think that that’s awesome. Thank you so much for joining our show today. You know, as, as we wrap up here, if there are listeners that want to get in contact with you and have follow up questions on this topic, what’s the best way for them to do that. 

Heather Anderson: So you can always reach me through, HR Mavericks.

I am listed on there for sure. You can also find me on LinkedIn. I searched myself just to see how hard that was and it’s Heather Anderson, SHRM-CP . And I am based in Utah. There’s only two of us in there. One’s in Roanoke. I don’t know her, but she looks pretty cool. But I’m the one based in Utah.

Awesome. Look are probably the best two ways to reach me. Perfect. 

Garrett Jestice: We will drop the links to both of those places where you can find and connect with Heather in the show notes. So don’t have to worry about writing those down if you’re listening, just check out the show notes and you can find them there.

So, Heather, thank you again so much for taking the time to share some of your insights with us on this awesome topic. And we hope you have a great rest of the day. 

Heather Anderson: You too have a great week. 

Garrett Jestice: Thank you.

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