Communication

Employee experience: Why everyone should have one-on-one meetings with HR

7 min read

One-on-ones don't have to be dedicated only to managers and their direct reports. They also offer a great opportunity for HR professionals to improve their overall employee experience.

In the last 3 years that I’ve been at SoapBox, I’ve seen that one of the biggest impacts I could have on not only understanding, but also improving employee engagement was through the one-on-one meetings I set with every employee. 

Generally, organizations will send out multiple pulse surveys, engagement surveys (the list goes on), to their employees. But, from an employee perspective, only 30% of US employees feel that their feedback is acted upon by their employer. By giving employees the opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with HR, feedback is not only acted on faster, but there’s more room to gather all the context needed to act appropriately. 

5 things I learned from doing 1:1s with every employee 

  1. Always come with a standardized set of questions
  2. It is both easier and more difficult than sending surveys
  3. It’s important to take detailed notes, and save them at the end of every meeting
  4. When all meetings are completed, build a consensus report on responses and report it to leaders.
  5. Act on your findings as soon as possible. 

Surveys should not be the only way you track engagement

What is the optimal way for an HR team to track engagement? This is a question teams ask themselves all the time. The area is certainly flooded with tools and tricks to do so, but do they really give you what you need? 

It can be strange being an HR team of one in a company that’s trying to disrupt the engagement space. You have to unlearn a lot and come up with new and innovative ways to track data on your people. Quarterly engagement surveys simply did not cut it.

At SoapBox, we care a lot about the employee experience and constantly want to measure how employees feel about their experience in the company. That usually starts with a candidate experience survey and an onboarding survey. Yes, we still do some surveys, but they’re not our one source of truth. Unlike many other organizations, every person in the company also has a one-on-one meeting with HR every quarter.

I started doing 1:1’s with everyone back in the fall of 2018, and since then I’ve learned so much. Below are five quick learnings to help you with your 1:1s for the purpose of tracking employee engagement.

1. Always come with a standardized set of questions

Don’t wait for the employee to add anything to your meeting agenda, because unless there’s something pressing, they won’t. They already have multiple 1:1s with their manager and team, so to be overwhelmed by HR will just be annoying.

When planning out your questions, consider what you want to measure. This can will among organizations. For example, at SoapBox we believe that having clear goals are a big part of great employee experience. We also believe that consistent feedback and coaching contribute to a great experience too.

With these factors in mind, some questions that I ask during my one-on-one meetings with employees include: 

  • Do you feel like your goals are clear?
  • Do you feel that you receive adequate coaching and feedback on your work?
  • Do you have performance conversations with your manager? How often?
  • Is your work recognized when done well?
  • Do you feel like our teams are inclusive? Do you feel like you belong?
  • Do you feel like this is a good place for your career to grow?

For my one-on-ones, I schedule 45 minutes with each employee. If you go down this route, it’s important to ask anywhere from 5-8 questions to give the employee time to answer your questions, as well as cover any issues or items that they might bring up.

Finally, ensure the questions can yield yes or no answers. This will help with tracking data on the percent agreement of the particular question category. The great thing about tracking qualitative data is you can also get context on the answer from the employee. More on that next!  

2. Having 1:1’s with everyone are both easier and harder than surveying

Surveys are very convenient because they allow you to collect a certain amount of data in a very short period of time. You can send it out to people through a Google Form or survey tool and have results back within that same day. Just one problem though: participation rates. Our participation rates on various surveys usually sit at around 76%. Not bad. But, for a company of 33 people, we need the biggest sample size we can get. 

The great part about doing 1:1’s is you will get a response from everyone within the quarter. 

Did someone say a 100% participation rate? 🤩

This process is also more personable and allows you to get to know every employee while building rapport and trust with them. The one drawback is the data will take a little bit longer to collect. 

3. Always take meeting notes

As I said earlier, it’s great to have yes or no questions, but now you have the added opportunity to press for context. Be sure to jot down notes so that you’re able to best summarize each question when the meeting is over. 

However, you need to understand that this is not a job interview, so don’t sit there typing away the entire time. Make eye contact, listen, and ask prompting questions. When something comes up that you feel is important, write it down. 

Once the meeting is over, write out the answers along with any context given. It’s important to do this as soon as possible so you don’t forget anything. Finally, double-check with the employee to ensure that your notes are accurate.

4. Report on these 1:1s

What is the point of having these meetings if you aren’t going to compile the data? The great thing about asking yes or no questions is that you can determine the percentage of agreement for each category. Depending on the questions you ask, this can be things like: 

  • Which department is in low agreement on having performance conversations with their manager? 
  • What percentage of the organization feels like they have clear goals? 
  • What percentage of employees feel like they can grow within the organization?

These are all questions that can be answered through these 1:1s. Once you have the data, it’s crucial to prioritize and focus on actioning your learnings to ensure that your employees feel like their feedback is being actioned on.

5. You have to take action

Analysis paralysis! It happens to us all… But what can we do with the data we have compiled? Well, as we’ve discussed, we can group it any way we want. If a particular department has very low agreement on performance conversations, it might be wise to go over and chat with that department’s manager as to why that might be. Remember to back it up with the data you’ve collected. As an HR professional, we are always looking for ways to gain respect in our organizations and be strategic partners with managers. This can be a great way to establish that trust with your leaders and form that partnership going forward. 

As your organization grows, these kinds of meetings will become increasingly difficult, so if you are in an organization of 60+ people this may not be ideal for you to do quarterly. These kinds of meetings may have to occur bi-annually or even annually. 

1:1s don’t have to be exclusively a managerial thing. HR can certainly benefit from doing 1:1s with as many employees within their organization as they can. This could be the entire organization or the business area that you support. Whatever it is, get in front of people and talk to them! Don’t hide behind a survey.


Over 30,000 managers use SoapBox to have productive one-on-one meetings. 🚀