What Is Employee Relations? – Forbes Advisor – Forbes
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Published: Sep 19, 2022, 12:00pm
Employee relations is a hot-topic buzzword in business circles these days, and for good reason: the relationship between an employer and its employees is an integral part to the longevity of any successful company or organization. But for something so critical to business operations, the details can be irritatingly vague and general.
Our guide to employee relations provides an overview of what employee relations entails, reasons as to why it is so important and some strategies that any company—big or small—can try implementing to improve the relationship employers maintain with employees.
Employee relations refers to the relationship between or among an employer and its employees. Depending on the context, the term has both practical and theoretical applications. Certain companies may have a dedicated team for maintaining and improving employee relations and this term may refer to this team. In other cases, the term may refer to theories, plans and policies designed to support employees and their interests. Regardless of the approach, employee relations are typically overseen by a company’s human resources department.
Employee relations concerns the building of positive relationships and interactions among employers and employees, and at a broader level helps foster a sense of community within an organization. This could entail initiating transparent workplace communication or supporting the emotional, physical and psychological health of employees. Ultimately, the goal of employee relations is to create a positive relationship between employers and employees that leads to an increase in employee retention, happiness and productivity.
Although employee relations staff and policies are typically intended to be non-biased and neutral (particularly when it comes to addressing and resolving employee-versus-employee conflicts), staff and policies are both ultimately responsible for protecting the interests and well-being of the company as a whole. Employees should beware employee relations staff and policies are not generally intended to protect employee interests.
You may hear the terms “vertical and horizontal employee relations” thrown around like dares by the limbo bar at the latest company party, but don’t worry: you don’t have to break your back to understand them. These terms describe the two main hierarchies in employee relations. All employee relations issues and strategies will involve one, or both, of these groups.
One of the problems with employee relations is that it covers a huge range of topics. After all, “anything involving employees” is a big umbrella. In order to relieve some of your confusion, here are ten common examples of subjects and issues covered by employee relations. It is also worth noting that many of these responsibilities can be easily managed by most of today’s recruiting platforms if you feel like you need some technological help.
Community-building activities, advocacy of a life/work balance, incentives and rewards, professional development opportunities—all of these are some of the things employee relations departments can do to encourage employee engagement and interest. Happy employees work better than dissatisfied ones and a good working environment is great for productivity. Though there are many different approaches out there, from providing different physical environments to organizing holiday events, companies should always strive to keep employees content and healthy.
Companies can make or break a good relationship with an employee over the quality of communication. A good employee relations department will continue to try and improve workplace communication, whether that means establishing policies or encouraging transparent exchanges. This applies to communications that happen both at a company-wide scale and at a more personal level—changes in company direction versus performance reviews, for example. It can also apply to communications outside of the company, such as through social media.
Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that people will disagree with each other. The more people are involved in the disagreement, the greater the overall discontent, and by extension, the impact on the workplace. In cases such as this, the role of employee relations is to resolve the conflicts before they start to spiral and negatively influence others. This is also true for disputes or issues the employee has with the company.
Employees sexually harassed or bullied (or who witnessed it happening to another individual) should make reports to an employee relations department. The department is then responsible for investigating the allegation, reaching a conclusion and taking any necessary steps to resolve the situation and end the harassment or bullying. Employee relations is also responsible for setting up any preventative measures, such as scheduling anti-harassment courses and writing anti-mistreatment policies.
An unsafe workplace environment is a recipe for disaster. Injuries, infrastructure damage—all of this can be disastrous to employees and employers. Employee relations must therefore promote awareness of any risks, ensure adequate training where necessary and write company-wide policies in the event of an emergency. Examples include first aid training and fire evacuation procedures. If an injury or accident does occur, the department is responsible for handling medical leave and compensation.
Much like health and safety procedures, the subject of wages—and by extension hours and expectations around compensation or shift work—are handled by an employee relations department. This includes things like attendance, compensation packages, timekeeping and vacation days. Wage disputes, requests for a pay raise and annual reviews or performance bonuses are typically dealt with or communicated by the department. Employee relations is also responsible for ensuring both employees and the company are meeting state and federal wage standards.
If an employee has a question about company policy, it is the responsibility of employee relations to provide an answer. They should also address any relevant concerns or comments about the policy, and communicate clearly if the policy is changed or modified.
Any situation warranting further investigation—such as harassment accusations or allegations of misconduct—will fall under the jurisdiction of an employee relations department. In most cases, the department will conduct these investigations internally, unless it must involve outside parties (e.g., law enforcement). Employee relations will also arrange any measure taken after the conclusion of an investigation, for example, a “recognizing sexual harassment” course.
Employee unions will typically elect a representative responsible for liaising with the company. The company must then find someone internally to liaise with the liaison. This role typically falls to someone in an employee relations department. This relationship is the main point of contact, collaborative or otherwise, between a union and a company, and may involve responsibilities including wage negotiation, employee rights and setting up meetings between unions and upper management.
In order to evaluate whether initiatives are working, employee relations departments must regularly monitor the morale and performance of employees. By opening up opportunities for reviews and feedback—both anonymous and face-to-face—employee relations can track the company atmosphere and hopefully resolve any brewing negative sentiment before it can grow too far out of control.
Some employee relations departments choose to conduct these reviews in an organized and data-based way, while others (especially smaller organizations) may choose a more conversational approach. The results of these sessions can help employee relations departments choose which areas or problems they should focus on and which current initiatives they should cut or continue.
At its most basic, an employee relations department remains important for a very simple reason: without employees, a company could not function. Companies want to keep experienced, productive and valuable employees for as long as possible—an effort often referred to as employee retention. To do this, employees must be happy enough that they will not—or at least will remain less likely to—leave the organization. Enter employee relations.
An organization with a positive relationship between and among management and its employees may see both the retention rates and overall productivity soar. Both of these things have a tangible impact on the company’s value and indeed play a key role in determining the success of an organization. Without recognizing and implementing employee relations strategies, many companies would not be able to make it off the ground, much less achieve long-term success.
Managing employee relationships is a huge job—even for a fully staffed and well-trained department. Here are some commonly used strategies and ideas for fostering a positive, healthy workplace.
While the above points are good strategies for improving employee relations, it’s important to remember they’re also generalized. Any company with a truly successful approach toward employee relations will have customized a strategy to fit the organization. Don’t be afraid to try out a few things to see what will stick, but stay flexible when it comes to adjusting policies and plans in order to stay receptive to employee needs and interests.
Employee relations is an integral aspect of any company or organization if it wants to have long-term success. Conflict resolution, wage issues, health and safety concerns, boosting employee morale—all of these topics are covered by an employee relations department. A company without a good employee relations infrastructure will struggle to handle any of these subjects, with predictably disastrous consequences. Many different strategies for creating a positive dynamic between employers and employees exist, but just like any healthy relationship, respect and clear communication are vital. While it’s not easy work to foster a good workplace environment, it pays dividends in employee retention, productivity, happiness and success.
Employee relations falls under a larger human resources umbrella. It refers to the relationships among employers and employees and any actions or initiatives taken to maintain the relationships. Some organizations and companies may dedicate an employee relations team within HR, but generally speaking, employee relations is one of the key responsibilities of any competent HR department.
The main purpose of employee relations is to foster and improve a positive relationship among employees and an employer (or coworkers, work, the company as a whole, etc.). This is intended to increase employee retention and productivity for the company and to encourage a sense of community. Employee relations may also help handle issues an employee is facing, such as harassment in the workplace or other conflicts.
Examples of employee relations issues include, but are not limited to: bullying, conflicts and disputes, sexual or verbal harassment, attendance and wage problems, alcohol or substance abuse and internal career development. Though this list is hardly substantive, you can assume any issues between an employee and an employer—or between employees—will fall under the category of employee relations.
Chauncey grew up on a farm in rural northern California. At 18 he ran away and saw the world with a backpack and a credit card, discovering that the true value of any point or mile is the experience it facilitates. He remains most at home on a tractor, but has learned that opportunity is where he finds it and discomfort is more interesting than complacency.