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Employee Relations: Meaning, Strategy & Examples

employee relations in action

Developing and maintaining positive employee relations is a crucial part of building a healthy, successful organisation. That’s because, on top of operating a company, leaders also need to manage a diverse range of people. 

Every employee has different expectations, emotions, and needs in the workplace. In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What employee relations are (plus examples)

  • Why employee relations matter and how to optimise them

  • How to build an employee relations strategy and the skills you’ll need to do so

Download our free guide to developing an optimal corporate culture today.

What are Employee Relations?

Employee relations (or employment relations) refers to the efforts of an organisation to develop and maintain its relationships with employees – both on a collective and individual level. The focus of employee relations includes concerns such as:

  • Working conditions

  • Compensation and benefits

  • Workplace/employee safety

  • Incentives, rewards, and recognition

  • Work-life balance

  • Conflict resolution

Maintaining positive employee relations can improve overall individual and organisational engagement and performance while creating a healthier, more enjoyable day-to-day work environment. In fact, having positive relationships with fellow employees can increase employee satisfaction by 50%.

Is HR In Charge of Employee Relations?

A company’s HR department is typically responsible for managing employee relations, but they may also have a dedicated employee relations manager (or team) that focuses specifically on those tasks and issues.

Those in charge of employee relations are often responsible for:

  • Liaising between employees and managers, leaders, or supervisors

  • Creating or advising on workplace policies around employee issues and needs

  • Helping to create the company’s employee handbook

  • Preventing and resolving issues between employees and management

  • Improving and maintaining positive working conditions (pay, benefits, work-life balance, etc.)

  • Managing employee files

  • Assisting in the recruiting, hiring, and employee exiting processes

  • Sharing company news, announcements, or policy updates

What Are Employee Relations Important?

When a leadership team, manager, or HR professional has the resources to manage their employees well, they can develop a positive organisational culture that improves productivity, employee satisfaction, and retention.

For many workers, finding a workplace with a constructive culture is even more important than salary. Luckily, better employee relations is a great foundation for a healthy and positive organisational culture.

On the other side, negative employee relations can cause a company to self-implode. When not addressed and improved, they leave the organisation to break down from the inside out, costing them employees, time, and money.

Instead, you can build your company up — even stronger than before — with positive employee relations. 

Here’s what can happen when your employee relations improve:

Benefit

Reason

Employees are More Engaged

An important part of building employee relations is maintaining communication. When employees know what’s going on at their company, they feel more involved, connected, and valued. On the flip side, poor employee relations can dissolve that connection, and instead leave workers feeling isolated and like they aren’t part of a team.

The Employee Experience Improves

When employees have positive relations with their fellow employees and management, there’s often better communication, a better understanding of their role and expectations, and better alignment with the company’s values and mission.

Workplace Culture is More Positive

Positive work environments are proven to boost productivity. Great workplace culture and organisational development don’t just benefit those currently working at the company, either — having a positive culture can also help attract and retain top talent.

You Retain Employees for Longer

If you want to retain employees for longer, give them fewer reasons to leave. Surveyed employees from companies with high retention rates say that their healthy relationships with their coworkers and managers are one of the main reasons why they stay at their job.

What are Common Examples of Employee Relations?

Over one-third of employees have experienced some sort of interpersonal conflict in their workplace in the past year. These are an unavoidable part of work, whether they’re among employees or between employees and management. 

Employee issues are as varied as the employees within a company, but they typically stem from one of these core topics:

1. Performance

Performance-related issues are most often associated with an employee’s work not meeting expectations. But they can also include the day-to-day failings of an employee that affect the entire team. 

Examples of performance issues include:

  • Not meeting assigned goals 

  • Completing tasks late

  • Regularly missing or being late to work/meetings

  • Not being reachable when working remotely

  • Violating workplace safety rules

2. Interoffice Relationships

A key part of team management involves managing the relationships within the team. Companies of all sizes can struggle with interoffice issues, which can balloon to impact the entire organisation if not handled properly.

Examples of interoffice relationship issues include: 

  • Harassment

  • Inappropriate behaviour

  • Disrespecting shared space

  • Gossiping

  • Bullying

3. Leadership

A successful employee-leadership relationship is a two-way street. One survey found that 23% of employees said their management team contributes to a negative work environment. 

Examples of leadership issues include:

  • Employees not trusting leadership (Going against leadership advice or direction)

  • Employees not respecting leadership (Gossiping about or bullying management)

  • Leadership not being approachable or open (Leading to disengagement and the employee feeling undervalued)

  • Leadership not offering guidance (Leading to employees feeling isolated)

4. Behavioural or Personal Matters

Behavioural or personal issues in the workplace are often the most difficult to approach and repair because of their sensitive nature.

Examples of behavioural or personal issues include:

  • An employee keeping a messy desk or personal space

  • Personal hygiene issues

  • Substance abuse issues

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11 Steps to Optimise Employee Relations (Existing) 

While you’ll always experience conflicts on some scale, there are a few actionable steps leaders, managers, and HR professionals can take to build and optimise employee relations:

1. Put the Employee Experience First

Improving the relationships between management and employees starts by uncovering your employees’ motivations, expectations, and current level of job satisfaction.

This is especially effective when approached on the individual level. Speak with employees one-to-one to uncover what’s not working in their role or experience, and determine if the issues can be resolved by making strategic employee relation improvements.

2. Break Down Walls Between Management and Employees

It’s no secret that maintaining a culture of respect in your company is important. But you also want to be approachable and accessible to your employees. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook is a great example of this: it may sound simple, but he regularly eats lunch with his employees. Make yourself approachable and accessible, and a sense of comradery in the office will follow.

3. Provide Formal Management Training

Even though 66% of organisations provide leadership training, 72% of them report a deficit in leadership and management skills.

Managers and supervisors may have been promoted because of their experience in the company, or at another company in a similar role, but many of them have never received the resources and training they need to be truly effective leaders.

One-time training isn’t always enough, either. New and seasoned leaders alike can benefit from annual training courses to keep them sharp and on the cutting edge of what’s needed from a leader in today’s modern workplace.

4. Celebrate Success

Don’t wait for formal evaluations to highlight an employee’s achievements. Whether they reached a set goal, handled a difficult situation well, or received praise from a client, recognizing and rewarding their successes can help keep them inspired.

Recognising those successes publicly — at monthly team meetings, for example — can be exceptionally motivating.

5. Don’t Play Favourites

Treat all employees across the company fairly and equally. This may seem straightforward, but there are often unconscious biases within the workplace based on an employee’s seniority or success.

6. Set an Example

If your management team takes a “rules for thee, not for me” approach to work, the respect they’ve earned from their employees can quickly deteriorate. Hold leaders at every level of the company accountable for their actions and ensure they’re following employee guidelines just like those they lead are expected to.

7. Communicate Clearly and Often

In employee relations, effective communication can bring clarity to conflict. Start by creating an open dialogue between management and employees by having monthly or weekly meetings. Face issues head-on, clarify misunderstandings and miscommunications immediately, share your knowledge, and give equal say to each party when managing disagreements.

8. Be Approachable 

Having an issue at work is stressful enough. But feeling like you can’t go to your manager or boss about it? That’s even worse. How approachable and accessible are your HR department and leadership team? Can an employee reach out easily and privately to discuss an issue?

There are many digital tools and apps that offer one-to-one messaging. Instead of asking people to call or email, using an app like Slack or Google Chat can make difficult discussions easier for employees, or at least help them start the conversation before entering into a more formal meeting.

9. Involve Your Employees

By continually seeking feedback from employees, involving them in company decisions, and listening to their opinions, you’re telling your employees you trust them and their expertise. And trust does everyone a world of good — people at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, and 40% less burnout.

10. Focus on Inclusivity

Workplace bullying is a common issue in many places. In the UK, for example, one in five employees agree that their team members reject others for being different. In your employee handbook, include your company’s mission to maintain inclusivity around race, religion, orientation, and ability, and make sure it’s actively reaffirmed on a regular basis.

11. Build an Official Employee Relations Handbook

Your employee relations handbook comprises your company’s mission, values, policies, and plans for addressing employee issues. The handbook — or employee relations plan — brings clarity for new employees and ensures the entire company is on the same page. It can also help the organisation avoid internal and legal headaches by including information such as:

  • The company’s mission, culture, and values

  • General employee information (role, expectations, etc.)

  • Compensation and benefits information

  • Policies around time off, scheduling, and leave

  • Non-disclosure agreements

  • Conflict of interest statements

  • Company policies and procedures

  • Disciplinary actions and procedures

  • Compliance policies

  • Signed acknowledgement of employee

Read more here for our complete guide to creating employee handbooks. 

What is an Employee Relations Strategy?

An employee relations strategy is a plan of action to create an environment that will meet the needs of both employers and employees. The strategy should help employees understand and align with the company’s mission and vision, set out a plan for frequent communication, and create avenues to give feedback and reward good work.

As with any good strategy, you’ll want its impact to be measurable. Consider tracking KPIs such as:

  • Employee satisfaction

  • Number of recognitions

  • Number of complaints

  • Response time for complaints

  • Number of employees/leaders who can articulate mission & values

  • Benefits & compensation data compared to competitors 

  • Number of resolved cases

  • Number of positive/negative employer reviews on external sites

Skills to Help with Employee Relations

There is a greater need for employee relations skills than ever before due to the uncertainty of recent years and increasing pressure in the workplace. Whether this means an organisation has a specialised employee relations manager or ensures People teams have the proper training, employee relations skills are crucial to the health of the organisation as a whole.

Important skills to aid in employee relations can include:

  • Consultation, mediation, and negotiation

  • Active listening

  • Ability to examine and interpret employee attitudes and feelings

  • Awareness of potential signs of conflict

  • Conflict/differences resolution

  • Understanding of employment regulations and laws

Frequently Asked Questions: Employee Relations 

What Does Employee Relations Mean? 

Employee relations refers to an organisation’s efforts to build and grow positive collective and individual relationships with employees.

What is the Major Purpose of Employee Relations?

The purpose of employee relations is to build up the collective and individual relationships in a company by spotting and fixing issues and conflict in the workplace, improving employee satisfaction and team morale, and supporting the organisation’s performance management efforts.

Is Employee Relations the Same as HR? 

Employee relations is an important part of human resources, but it doesn’t cover the entire range of HR activities. While employee relations is about the relationships among employees and between employees and the organisation, HR is responsible for managing the entire employee lifecycle, from recruiting to offboarding and everything in between.

Ready to Build an Employee Relations Policy?

With clear employee relations policies in place, you can align your team with your culture, values, and mission from day one; overcome issues by following clear-cut procedures; and benefit from a better connectedness throughout the company.

Positive employee relations empower team members at all levels to work together more collaboratively, with more satisfaction, and with more motivation to achieve collective and individual goals.