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Employee relations is the aspect of human resources that focuses ongoing attention to helping management and employees achieve maximum success and perform together at their highest level. This is achieved through a combination of communication, leadership, trust, conflict resolution, and other intangibles.
Good employee relations are important in all workplaces of any size.
Summary of requirements
Communication. At the core of employee relations is communications. If employers are to relate well to employees, and vice versa, there must be a good line of communication. Both sides must know where the other side is coming from, and both must be willing to adjust, as needed and as is reasonable and good for the organization, to the others’ feedback.
Good communication needs to begin before an employee is hired so there are no surprises. Not meeting expectations on either side is guaranteed to hamper employee relations.
Don’t just tell them what to do. Communication must be more than management or HR telling employees what the policies and procedures are. For employee relations to be good, employers must let workers know the reasons for policies and procedures. It is difficult for workers to be enthusiastic if they do not know why they are being asked to do something. In the best-case scenario, employees will know about a policy or procedure before that final policy or procedure is instituted. Giving employees an opportunity to provide input into the way things are done can provide an enormous sense of dignity, and thus improve employee relations.
And, when an employee has a complaint about a policy, particularly if it is a longstanding complaint, take it seriously. This means thinking about the complaint and deciding on a course of action, whether it means accepting the suggestion (changing the policy) or explaining why the policy needs to be the way it is.
Honesty. We’ve all heard that honesty is the best policy. This is very true where employee relations are concerned. Hiding things from workers can only lead to suspicion and mistrust. In many ways it is better to share too much with employees than not enough. Also, the more correct information that gets shared, the less likely employees will rely on potentially false information through the “rumor” mill.
Fairness. In an organization with good employee relations, all workers must have an equal opportunity to perform well. And, workers should know what the employer’s definition of “well” is. Employers, consequently, should base rewards and promotions on those spelled-out definitions of good performance.
Feedback. In order to know where the company stands with employee relations, it may be a good idea to conduct a survey or institute some other means of obtaining feedback. Ideally, employees will share any concerns they have as those concerns arise. However, some employees may not voice their concerns (or ideas for improving an already good situation) unless asked.
Conflict resolution. A major part of good employee relations is keeping the people happy. This unfortunately sometimes means dealing with conflict. Effective organizations tackle conflict head-on, preventing it where feasible.
With conflict resolution, oftentimes the problem is not in the apparent “conflict” but in a larger or deeper issue. That’s why many conflicts seem to be over trivial issues (office equipment, headphone volume, perfume/cologne, etc.) The reality is that the problem may not be headphone volume at all. Instead, it may be the “why does this person always get their way” thought or the “why does he think he can do anything he wants” feeling.
Performance appraisals. One way to foster positive employee relations is to implement a performance appraisal system. Ideally, performance appraisals will be conducted at least annually. This gives the company the opportunity to discuss potential problem issues with employees before they get out of hand and do serious damage to employee relations. Employees will appreciate the feedback and the entire process should enhance productivity.
Organization chart. Another way to help employee relations is to establish various lines of responsibility. Line supervisors, if trained and selected properly, can head off some potential problems before they get to the level of requiring HR involvement.
Also, by having a “spokesperson” for a group of people, the company may be able to learn more efficiently about work concerns. Consequently, it will be able to deal with problems and issues with supervisors, and let the supervisors explain the issues to their workers, thus reducing strain on the HR function.
Characteristics of good employee relations. At the center of employee relations is a culture that fosters diversity and nurtures differences. Other characteristics of good employee relations programs include:
- HR and management quickly recognize and deal with potential issues before they harm the organization.
- HR responds to and resolves employee issues and complaints in an effective, expeditious manner.
- The company shows clear management-employee communication.
- HR effectively outlines policies and practices.
- HR and management apply guidelines to manage and resolve workplace conflict.
- Management, HR, and employees understand and agree upon what’s good for the organization.
Without good employee relations. In organizations where employee relations are disregarded, many unwanted situations can occur. These situations can include such things as unionization, low productivity, high turnover, absenteeism, and even litigation.
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