We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Your employees are your most important resource. If you’re here on this page, then there’s a better-than-average chance that you already recognize and value your employees. Way to go! You know that your employees are what make your company great. Their vision, innovation, creativity, determination, and desire to succeed are top factors in helping you meet your customer’s needs and achieve your goals. But (again) if you’re here on this page, you probably also recognize that there’s room for improvement.
And this means making employee relations more than just an afterthought.
Without proper employee relations strategies in place, your employees may be coming up against unaddressed challenges that make it difficult for them to perform at their best. On the flip side, strong employee relations has the potential to improve talent retention, productivity, and overall morale — and all of the $$$ that goes along with it.
Employee relations is a big deal. It’s just that it’s also kind of a big concept, potentially touching on every aspect of your business. It can be difficult to know where to start. We can help. Here, we highlight seven employee relations examples of areas that you’ll definitely want to address as you make employee relations a top priority.
First, let’s start with the basics.
What Is Employee Relations?
Employee relations (which is sometimes abbreviated as ER or ERM for employee relationship management) is a term that businesses use to describe the relationships and interactions between employees, managers, and others within their organization. Most specifically, employee relations tends to take special interest in the relationship between employer and employee.
The goal of employee relations is to create a healthy working environment where employees feel safe to express ideas, supported in their work and cared for as an individual. As such, every effort from an organization to build strong relationships among employees falls under the employee relations umbrella. This includes any efforts surrounding policies, practices, culture, training, benefits, and pretty much everything else. Hey, we told you it was a big concept.
Along with creating policies and enforcing safe workplace practices, a major part of employee relations is seeking employee feedback. In what areas do employees feel they lack support? What difficulties do they repeatedly run into in their processes? Do they feel appreciated and recognized? Are there any individuals within the company that they have trouble interacting with in a positive way? This first-hand input is invaluable in strengthening your approach to employee relations.
OK. So employee relations is essentially how well (or otherwise) a company maintains its relationships with its employees. This involves implementing different management practices and tools designed to improve employee relationships across the board.
Now we can get to some examples of employee relations practices and the areas in your company that may be ripe for improvement.
Examples of Employee Relations
People are social animals; we are at our best when we’re interacting and working together — provided that we’re not taking one another for granted, or neglecting to prioritize anyone’s wellbeing (as we sometimes do). So, let’s consider the areas in your business where an increased focus on employee relations could make a real difference:
Conflict is inevitable. Heck, sometimes a little healthy conflict can drive innovation. But that kind of conflict — the rational, respectful exchange of opinions in pursuit of a common goal — isn’t the kind of conflict we’re talking about right now; we’re talking about conflict that doesn’t contribute to growth.
This kind of conflict is personal, negative, or hurtful, and it is toxic for team dynamics and the company’s bottom line.
When stepping in as a neutral third-party to resolve the conflict, there are a few steps that will help you create a safe and productive environment.
- Schedule a formal meeting in a neutral place. Avoid scheduling the meeting in the office of someone who is involved in the conflict as this could be perceived as favoritism.
- Set the expectations that each individual should be treated with respect and have the space to share their views.
- Ask each individual to describe the conflict and what their opinion of the matter was. Guide participants to focus on behaviors and problems rather than getting personal and talking about specific people.
- After each individual has described things from their view, ask the other participant to restate what has been said. See if they have any follow-up questions they would like to get clarification on.
- Brainstorm solutions and collaborate to find an outcome that may be acceptable to both parties.
- Summarize all the solutions discussed.
- Ask each participant to think about these solutions and schedule a second meeting to choose a final course of action.
If team members don’t feel safe and cared for at work, chances are high that they will start looking for other opportunities. Employers may also be held financially or legally responsible for any injuries, medical leave, or lost wages that occur as a result of workplace accidents.
Take a walk around your office and identify any safety hazards. Does the office kitchen have wet or slippery floors? Are electrical outlets or extension cords overloaded? Are your sidewalks clear of snow and ice during the winter? Be sure to take the appropriate action for each concern you find.
Your organization should have defined safety policies that are easily accessible to employees. These policies should include but not be limited to:
- Fire evacuation plan
- Guidelines for reporting safety violations
- COVID-19 plan
The second aspect of workplace safety is psychological safety. For an office to have a productive environment, employees need to feel secure sharing their thoughts and opinions with team members. Leaders in an emotionally safe workplace encourage team members to share their ideas, are inclusive, and focus on solutions to problems instead of worrying about assigning blame.
This doesn’t mean you have to handle your employees with kid gloves; these are adults who should be capable of facing hard truths when necessary. It just means that no one should ever feel picked on or ignored. Make sure that every member of every team knows that their ideas matter and that they can speak up when they need to without fear of being trivialized.
Wait a minute, what kind of support are we talking about here? Because if you pay your people a fair salary, then you’re supporting them, right?
Sure. Kind of. Maybe not. It all depends on how you define “support,” and how your employees define it. Another way to think of it is that the paycheck is the beginning of employee support, not the end. Truly valuing your employees means going further.
First, recognize individual employees in team huddles, company-wide meetings, one-on-one discussions, and written channels. This recognition can be for a work anniversary, a completed project, or outstanding results. Simple encouragement can go a long way in boosting morale and laying a foundation for more high-quality work. Non-work-related events are likewise worth recognizing. Celebrate team birthdays and big life events to drive home the point that it’s the employee you value, and not just the work they do.
Employees also need to feel supported in their professional development. Team members should be aware of growth opportunities within the company and the skills they need to develop to get there. Consider setting up a mentoring program where less experienced employees can meet with experienced employees for tips, training, advice, and more.
Even if most of us enjoy taking it easy now and then (who doesn’t love a day off?), the truth is that individuals are happier when they’re productive. Employee engagement reflects the degree that employees invest their energies in reaching organizational goals, and is the result of feeling valued, inspired, and empowered at work.
Unfortunately, only 36% of employees in the US feel engaged with their work. And if employees don’t feel like they are contributing towards a common goal, disengagement is often right around the corner.
Help your employees become more engaged by:
- Having regular conversations about engagement
- Training managers on how to support engagement
- Holding regular performance reviews
- Keeping remote workers in mind
- Having employees set goals and check back on performance
- Regularly highlighting employee strengths and achievements
- Holding frequent team-building activities
- Advocating for work-life wellness
- Providing professional development opportunities
Policy Education and Enforcement
Not every employee (whether you’re a manager, or intern, or executive) has the same understanding of what proper conduct is and is not. This is why company policies are so important. And though your policies should be clearly communicated during onboarding, regular refreshers are often needed to keep procedures top of mind for employees and to take into account any updates.
Consider holding a mandatory annual policy review meeting. Additionally, inform employees where they can access copies of the policies and encourage them to ask clarifying questions whenever necessary. Some policies you may want to revisit regularly include:
- Employee conduct
- Paid time off
- Parental leave
If policies are changed, communicate the adjustments promptly and make sure employees have a written copy of the updated version. And while it may not be fun to have to think about how you’re going to crack down when policies are ignored, your organization should also have a clear plan in place for policy enforcement. Train supervisors to alert HR to noncompliance and have a disciplinary plan in place and be sure to collect documentation of repeated noncompliance. After all, policies are only effective if they’re being followed.
Speaking of documenting policy noncompliance, sometimes the best thing you can do for employee relations is to deal with those who are actively hindering it.
One extremely important aspect of employee relations is identifying and addressing employee misconduct. Misconduct is anything that negatively impacts an employee’s work or peers. Depending on the severity, misconduct may be manageable through individual training (or retraining) or may require termination or even legal action. No matter the seriousness, misconduct should be handled promptly to protect the employees at your organization.
Some common types of misconduct include:
- Confidentiality breaches
- Unethical relationships
- Harassment and discrimination
- Theft or fraud
Once misconduct has been discovered, begin an investigation immediately. Gather statements from everyone involved and document the evidence. If necessary, consider a temporary paid suspension of the individuals involved. Consult with leadership to determine the severity of the offense and the necessary actions. Communicate the decided-upon consequence to all involved parties.
Typically, less severe consequences can be addressed through a standardized warning process. The first offense may warrant a verbal warning while the following offenses escalate to a formal written warning, probation period, suspension, and finally dismissal.
Want to really show your employees you care about them? Hit them with some fantastic benefits! Employee benefits are powerful tools for employee relations; they not only demonstrate how much you value your workforce, but they can also help employees better prioritize their own wellbeing. And some of the most effective benefits you can offer to improve employee relations are wellness programs.
When building a benefits package, evaluate the needs of your employees and create a system that meets those needs. Benefits packages have evolved over the past few decades beyond traditional offerings such as medical, dental, and vision. Now, organizations offer employees a wide range of offerings like retirement savings accounts, mental health programs, and physical wellbeing programs. The right benefits can contribute to a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and can help your employees feel valued and supported.
When employees have the tools they need to focus on their health and wellness, they have more energy for happiness and productivity at work. Luckily, you don’t have to figure it out all on your own. Talk to a wellbeing specialist today to discover new ways to take care of and engage with your employees.
- Belin, Adela. (May 5, 2021). 7 Best Practices for Improving Employee Relations. Empuls. Retrieved October 24, 2022 from https://blog.empuls.io/improve-employee-relations/.
- Employee Relations: Definition, Examples and Strategies.Fingerprint for Success. Retrieved October 24, 2022 from https://www.fingerprintforsuccess.com/blog/employee-relations.
- Harter, Jim. (July 29, 2021). U.S. Employee Engagement Data Hold Steady in First Half of 2021. Gallup. Retrieved September 9, 2022 from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/352949/employee-engagement-holds-steady-first-half-2021.aspx.
- How Do You Build Better Employee Relations? (March 24, 2021). Retrieved October 24, 2022 from https://www.personio.com/hr-lexicon/employee-relations-guide/.
- Ruane, Jessica. (August 26, 2022). 15 Actionable Ways to Improve Your Employee Relations in 2021. Beekeeper. Retrieved October 24, 2022 from https://www.beekeeper.io/blog/improve-employee-relations/.
- Walters, Shonna. (August 3, 2022). Employee Relations: An Overview and Best Practices. BetterUp. Retrieved October 24, 2022 from https://www.betterup.com/blog/employee-relations.