Employee relations are essential to a company’s success. Poor employee relations lead to high turnovers. Do it well, and you’ll get the best out of staff and create high performing teams.
Employee relations are the way managers maintain positive relationships with their employees. This affects every aspect of work - from day-to-day communication between staff, to the way grievances are processed. Effective employee relations set teams up for success. How a manager relates to their staff will direct the company’s culture.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have moved to remote working. How can we effectively maintain excellent employee relations when faced with social-distancing? Managers and employees encounter a fresh set of challenges. With a lack of clear communication, staff can lose direction and purpose. With zero in-person contact, work can lose meaning, job satisfaction can take a hit – and as is well-documented, work-life balance starts to teeter over the edge. All this can negatively impact on working relationships.
While working from home comes with benefits, unfortunately employee relations is not one of them. An area that relies on communication, on personal interactions and one-on-ones – is unlikely to benefit from the long-distance set-up. With the right strategy, however, managers can adapt to the remote workplace and create even more responsive and fulfilled teams.
It’s important to consider why we need to focus on employee relations in the first instance. Often, they only become a field of study when dealing with grievances – when employee relations have already reached an impasse. It seems like an intuitive or natural part of being a manager: the ability to communicate well with your team, to treat them fairly, to avoid conflict. Strategy comes into question when pandemic-enforced isolation puts this in jeopardy. Employee relations do in fact require strategy- tailored to your teams and individuals in a company. The advice in this blog lays some foundational principles for managers to adjust to their own needs.
Communication is the foundation of any relationship – and no less employee-employer ones. In an office environment, informal communication is communication which is multi-dimensional. Informal communication is particularly quick. With remote-work we risk losing out on these more comforting aspects of work life.
But by deploying the right technology – whether that’s Slack, Zoom or Google Meet, it is possible to simulate this. Video call wherever possible, especially for one-on-ones or when providing feedback. As humans we rely on facial expressions and non-verbal cues to build trust with others, so try to factor this in to your communication efforts.
All managers should see the move to work from home as a chance to brush up on communication skills. A helpful starting point : think about what needs to be communicated – and try and put yourself in the employee’s position wherever possible. Often we assume things are self-explanatory when they are not. Don’t assume you have all the information you need – ask your employees questions and be curious about their responses. This is called active listening and it requires managers to switch off from other distractions to really engage with staff.
Communication enables greater clarity. Clear expectations are key to success in employee relations. Sometimes the virtue of ‘taking the initiative’ is overstated – and lets managers off the hook from communicating clearly to their employees. Make sure employees feel at ease to come to you with any difficulties. Use all the applications at your disposal to make task-setting more efficient.
Consider scheduling a morning and end-of-the-day meeting. Not only will this allow employees to voice any concerns regularly, it creates a much-needed routine around homeworking. All this sounds simple – but it can make a huge difference when it comes to bridging the distance gap of remote work.
Once managers communicate more openly, feedback becomes more effective. Some employees may not perform to the best of their ability during remote-work. Feedback shouldn’t offer a reprimand – try to gather as much detail as possible about the challenges the employee faces. While formal performance reviews may not be welcome as employees transition to remote work, try to use the principles of 360 Feedback. Make it clear that you are looking to develop your leadership skills, too. Reciprocal feedback is more likely to improve engagement, and builds trust between managers and employees.
Employee relations can fray if employees feel that their hard work is not recognised. Sometimes managers can think that high-performing staff do not need positive reinforcement. Remote working can make the journey of a task invisible – managers see the final product- but in reality that’s the tip of the iceberg. Set SMART targets regularly as a team – as these are actionable goals. When completed, celebrate these small wins : a positive outlook will motivate employees.
Company culture is also central to employee relations. This is the framework of values and attributes that define your company. When employees feel they are part of something bigger, they feel greater work satisfaction. Managers should not only clarify what these values are, but adopt these values as they communicate with employees.
In order to include employees in the company culture, you should remind staff that their work is essential to the company as a whole. The worst thing a manager can do is to set tasks without adequate context, or to give the impression their work has no bearing on the company. This is managing staff with integrity, and employees appreciate it.
While all company cultures are unique, empathy is always integral to employee relations. This term often seems wishy-washy, but when it comes to creating positive work environments, it is key- and it times of crisis, non-negotiable. In a study by DDI, empathy came out top as the leadership quality most connected to performance. Empathy can help make workplaces more inclusive, as it allows us to place ourselves in another’s shoes. We are less likely to overlook an employee’s challenges if we adopt an empathetic mind-set. SHRM recommends adopting mentoring processes in order to better understand staff. Simply opening communication channels and taken the time to really listen to your employees can be a step in the right direction.
Inclusive workplaces have a lower employee turnover. Make sure all staff have a voice. Clearly, some projects will be more relevant to some employees than others. Robert Sutton recommends that wherever there is the opportunity, ‘“Try dividing people into small subgroups so that everyone has a voice and an opportunity to provide input”’. This is all the more relevant to remote working. Consider updating employees on different areas of the company – during remote working they are likely to be getting a limited view. And be sure to avoid favouritism – this can be particularly harmful to employee relations efforts when contact points are already in jeopardy.
Yes, a Deliveroo voucher every now and then won’t go amiss. But if your teams are working in highly stressful environments, if they feel their work is undervalued, these perks will only paper over the cracks. Try to think about how you can make work itself more rewarding. Company culture is crucial. Create a supportive remote work environment, through empathy, positive reinforcement and common purpose.
Employee relations are always a work-in-progress. If you’re looking to improve your company’s internal relations, why not book a demo with PeopleGoal? We have surveys and tools to help you track engagement, tailored to your company’s unique needs.
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