Employees are people too!
The role that the employee relations manager carries out is changing significantly. In the past, it was seen in terms of managing sets of quite formal relationships, for example between the employer and staff representatives or trade unions. Employee relations covered a range of policy and process-based areas and involved negotiation and consultation, not with individuals but with subsets of the workforce, each with their own interests and grievances.
Fast forward to today’s employee relations role and it’s far less about process and much more about trust, engagement and commitment. It’s obvious from high-performing tech companies that employee engagement makes a huge difference to productivity. And when you have highly paid employees with in-demand technical skills, it’s vital to strengthen their commitment to the company, so that HR is not dealing with high staff turnover in these in-demand individuals.
Understanding what motivates people
At its heart, the employee relations role is about ensuring that the organisation fully recognises the diversity and individuality of the people who work for it. It’s also important that the manager understands what motivates not just people in general, but the kind of people who work for the specific organisation. It’s increasingly common for businesses to ask not only for essential professional HR qualifications but also desirable extras such as psychology, counselling and other qualifications which show an interest in how people act and respond.
Working with change managers
Many companies that are about to undergo significant change are aware of the unsettling effect this can have on employees. Sick leave and time off for stress begin to rise, grievances go up and without careful management, the atmosphere can sour to such an extent that it becomes very difficult to implement the planned transformation. People have feelings, and the organisation needs to acknowledge that they may feel let down, angry or disorientated.
This is where an adept employee relations specialist can make a real difference. Sometimes their role will be to take on individual cases where consultation has revealed that the changes to the business will cause exceptional problems. For example, a disabled employee with mobility problems might find relocation to a new site difficult. This kind of casework is vital in treating people as individuals and making them feel that they matter. Quite apart from the fact that the specialist is able to remind the business, if need be, of their legal obligations under equality legislation.
It’s noticeable that many of these jobs start off as temporary or interim positions, then become permanent as the company realises what a difference this role can make. A talented employee relations advisor can work with people at different levels, using appropriate tools. In a time of change and transition, it’s often forgotten that managers are people too. They might be in need of coaching, to get to grips with changes to their role, or the way they need to perform. They can also be given the tools they need to help their staff adjust to a period of change, without themselves succumbing to stress.
Employee relations and organisational culture go hand-in-hand and they are often managed in tandem. Authenticity is a touchstone. Do the people in the organisation feel okay about bringing their real selves to work? Or are they forced into an uncomfortable uniformity which they can’t wait to get away from as soon as they’ve done the bare minimum demanded by their contract? Do they feel accepted, and as if they have an equal chance of getting on? Or are they made aware that there’s an in-group who set the norms of behaviour to the detriment of others.
Employee relations and organisational culture specialists can bring about significant transformation and increased engagement, simply by listening to people and encouraging them to bring their authentic selves to work.