Employee relations refers to the relationships between staff and management. It used to be known as “industrial relations”.
It might sound simple on paper, but employee relations are a complex issue that can make or break a business. Your people are your business, so get employee relations wrong and you won’t survive for very long. But get it right and you can look forward to increased motivation and productivity, improved staff retention and reduced absenteeism.
In this blog, we’ll explore employee relations in greater depth, and let you know the sort of things you’ll need to think about if you want to get the very best out of your people.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Employee Relations
In the days when trade unions reigned, the term “employee relations” referred to the amount of influence the unions held. The emphasis was on collective employee rights.
But the unions aren’t what they used to be. Membership declined, so there is less of a push for collective employee rights. Instead, the focus is now on individual rights.
So in past decades, employee relations prioritised working conditions, pay, and benefits – the sort of things that affect everyone. But now that the focus has shifted to the individual, when we talk about employee relations we also talk about things like wellbeing, the work/life balance, and long service awards and recognition for good work.
You can make a positive difference to all of these things by effectively managing relationships in the workplace. The trick is to treat your people like people. They’re not mindless drones, or cogs in the machine. No, every single member of your team is a fascinating individual with a unique set of talents, abilities, hopes, and dreams.
The Benefits of Good Employee Relations
It should go without saying: Treating your team as a set of faceless numbers is a terrible idea. How would you feel working for an emotionless taskmaster who places no value on your creativity or individuality?
We recently took a look at the various different types of company cultures. Toxic company culture is one that prioritises profit above all. The workforce is simply a means to an end, and every member of the team is expendable. What really matters is the bottom line. This sort of thinking can result in low motivation, poor productivity, a high staff turnover, and terrible relationships between staff and management.
A good company culture is instead focused on vision, values, and ethos. Good leaders recognise that every member of the team has something uniquely valuable to bring to the table. They take the time to understand everyone’s individual needs. The business has a vision for a better world, and the leader’s goal is to ensure that every member of the team is able to share that vision.
Good employee relations mean that everyone works together to achieve a shared goal. The result is a genuinely motivated team, increased productivity, and reduced absenteeism. When you place a value on employee relations, you’ll find it much easier to attract and retain the brilliant talent your business needs to thrive.
Be good to your people and they’ll be good for you. What’s good for your team is very good for business. That’s the secret of employee relations. But how can you effectively manage employee relations to get the best for your people and your business?
How to Manage Employee Relations
Start by writing an employee relations policy. Make it transparent, straightforward, and easily accessible for every member of your team.
Your employee relations policy should start by outlining your vision, values, and ethos. What is your business really about? What are people working towards, and why should they care? If you can clearly define your purpose, you’re much more likely to encourage people to share your purpose. And if you can list your values, you’re much more likely to attract workers who share your values.
Next, you should outline your rules for the workplace. Think of your policy as a code of conduct. How do you want people to behave? How do you want people to relate to each other? What sort of behaviour would help achieve your shared vision, and what sort of behaviour would be out of line?
Finally, your employee relations policy needs to list the procedures for addressing any related problems in the workplace. Who should people approach if they’ve got a grievance with another member of the team? Who should they approach if they’ve got a problem with their line manager – or with you? How will you settle disputes?
You’ll need to tailor your employee relations policy to reflect your unique business and workforce requirements. But a major thing to bear in mind when crafting your policy is this: There’s a huge difference in how you deal with individual employees, and how you deal with the workforce as a whole.
Individual Employee Relationships
Bad managers hide behind closed doors. Good managers take the time to engage with every member of the team on a personal, authentic and individual level.
Even if your entire team is working towards a shared goal, your workforce is still the sum of a number of individuals. Everyone will have their own set of values, and different things will motivate different people. Work ethic and motivation will vary from person to person. You’ll have to meet every person’s unique needs if you want every member of your team to find satisfaction in their role.
And of course, the modern workforce is diverse. Your age, your upbringing, your cultural background – it’s all going to play a part in making you who you are. Managers cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to employee relationships. You need to treat every individual as just that: An individual.
There’s more to individual employee relationships than just being on first-name terms with everyone. You can’t just learn a few interesting facts about people – their favourite food, their preferred sports team, and so on. You need to go deeper and truly grasp what makes every person in your office tick.
Introduce an open-door policy. Let everyone know that if they ever want to discuss anything with you, they can. Make it clear that whatever is discussed in your office will be treated with the utmost of confidence.
Schedule informal one-to-one chats with every member of your team. Use this as an opportunity to find out what each person is looking for in their life and their work. Then think about how you can help them get there.
Treat your people as individuals and they’ll feel valued. Show that you’re invested in their wellbeing and their success and they’ll be more likely to view you as a leader that’s worth following. Work on your individual employee relationships and you may find that employees become more engaged in their roles. They may become happier and more motivated – and happy employees are productive employees.
Group Employee Relationships
So remember how we said that employee relations used to be referred to as “industrial relations”? It’s because it was all about the amount of influence the trade unions held. The focus was on things that affected everyone, like wages, hours, working conditions, and so on.
Those things still matter, even if nobody in your team is part of a union.
Your team needs to feel like they can talk to you about these things. And any discussion about these issues needs to be a dialogue. You can’t simply lay down the law and expect everyone to take you at your word. People need to have their say, and you need to listen. And having listened, you need to consider how you can come up with a situation that’s fair for all.
Be a problem-solver. Understand that “because I said so” or “that’s just the way things are” will never be good enough. Take the time to consider where people are coming from, and aim to meet them halfway.
You can be transparent and reasonable without simply letting people walk all over you. Take a firm-but-fair approach, and you’ll win your team’s respect, as well as their loyalty.
Such a healthy relationship between staff and management will mark you out as a true investor in people. This can help you to attract and retain the best in the business, and you’ll also likely see a huge boost to employee engagement and productivity.
Need Help with Your Employee Relations?
Your employee relations plan works hand-in-hand with your employee wellbeing scheme. They both feed into each other: Improve employee wellbeing and you can expect better relationships across the workforce. Improve relationships across the workforce and you’ll create a more harmonious working environment, which is a crucial part of any wellbeing program.
We partnered with the job satisfaction experts at Perkbox to create an essential guide to wellbeing in the workplace. Our essential guide to employee wellbeing whitepaper will show you how treating your people like people will make your business thrive.