At the core of effective employee relations is excellent communication. 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 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 about following a policy or procedure if they do not know why they are being asked to do so. 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 empowerment, 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.
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 you share, the less likely employees will rely on potentially false information through the “rumor” mill.
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.
In order to know where you stand 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 you ask. Remember, though, when requesting employee feedback, make sure you can follow through appropriately to address the feedback. A survey should obtain information for developing an action plan, not just serve as an outlet for frustrations. If you might not be able to fix a problem, don’t create the expectation that you can, and be honest if you can’t. If you know you can’t change something, don’t even ask about it. Employees might get even more frustrated if their concerns are collected and then (seemingly) ignored. In organizations where employee relations are disregarded, many unwanted situations can occur: low productivity, high turnover, absenteeism, and even litigation.
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.
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 out of hand. Also, by having supervisor involvement, you may be able to learn more efficiently about work concerns. Consequently, you will be able to deal with problems and issues with supervisors, and let the supervisors explain the issues to their workers.