At first glance, employee relations seems like an easy concept. It is just the relationship between an employer and employee, right? The truth is though that’s just the tip of the iceberg and having a better understanding of what creating and maintaining positive employee relations entails is the key to having a more engaged, better performing workforce.
Employee relations has grown out of the field of industrial relations which as a whole focused on the collective relationship between employees and their shared employer. Although there is some overlap and unions continue to be an important means of interaction for some employers, employee relations is more focused on the individual connection between one employee and their employer. More specifically, when we speak of employer relations we’re really referring to is the effort and scope of actions an employer takes to develop and maintain positive relationships with their employees.
At the base level, we have a contractual relationship. Employees agree to work for a given salary and/or benefits. The employer agrees to furnish these benefits as well other protections as prescribed by local law. This is however the bare minimum of a relationship and with increased competition for high quality talent and higher expectations from potential employees, it’s more important than ever to focus on employee relations.
It’s often the case that much of the responsibility to create positive relations falls upon line manager or the Human Resources Department. While it’s true that managers are in many cases the face of an organization and the most important factor that influencing how employees feel about the company, sending managers in solo is not a sustainable solution. An effective employee relations program is dependent on both awareness and support from top leadership to empower managers as well. To that end, here are 5 key areas to consider when reviewing your approach to employee relations:
Communication is key to any relationship, and employee relations is no exception. When we communicate company mission, vision and strategy we give everyone the chance to get on board and cement our resolve to work towards a common goal. When we communicate success and failures as well as current initiatives, we establish transparency and a culture when we don’t fear failure but continue to aspire for excellence. And when we communicate often, at a company, department, team, and manager level we open the door to a positive relationship with informed, knowledgeable and engaged employees.
Half of communication is listening, and if employees feel there is an uneven balance and their opinions can’t be heard the relationship will sour. Creating a culture where employees have a voice doesn’t mean conceding to every request. But creating such a rapport with employees does require process to voice complaints and suggestions without fear or reprisal and a system to review and respond to such concerns - even if the answer is no.
While hard work may be a reward in itself, simple recognition can go a long way to building a positive relationship with employees. Especially when someone goes above and beyond, recognition shows that we value and the success of everyone. If you think it might prove difficult to create effective recognition systems, consider online system that allow for spontaneous recognition and tracking and even link to rewards programs. Enabling managers to have the resources and focus to recognize direct reports who excel at their role can motivate teams even when organization-wide systems may fall short.
Closely linked to communication is feedback. But feedback is more specific to what we’ve done well and what we can aspire to achieve. A positive 360 feedback culture is an environment where employees actively seek out feedback because they realize it can be positive as well as constructive. Good feedback is also timely and gives us time to process and act on it. Finally 360 feedback entails allows bottom-up submissions and giving employees the ability to do so, helps them find a voice and suggest solutions you might not be when you’re not “in the trenches.”
Rewards don’t have to be explicitly linked to recognition and rewards don’t always have to be of high monetary cost. Benefits, perks or rewards offered to employees need to make sense to who they’re offered to. Read: don’t give out Starbucks gift cards to employees who don’t drink coffee. Consider systems that offer flexibility and multiple options for rewards. Crowdsourcing suggestions for rewards can also help everyone feel like they have a say in their workplace. Therefore, reward smarter, not harder.
Employee relations is a strategic issue that requires attention from leadership, Human Resources and line managers. Ultimately, the better the relationship you can cultivate with employees, individually and collective, the more buy-in, engagement and productivity you will get in return. From more information on cultivating employee relations, review the CPID factsheet here.
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