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Employee Relations

Employee Relations

Sarah Brown

October 23, 2008

In this article, I’m going to look at three areas of discussion on the subject of employee relations:


• What Employee Relations means


• How Employee Relations works


• What is needed to be successful


What Employee Relations is:

Employee Relations is, of course, the relationship between employers and employees. Here in the UK, this is known as Employer/employee Engagement. Perhaps the word “engagement” gives a fuller meaning to the topic, since employers and employees must actively engage with one another in order to have a working relationship — one that actually works.

How Employee Relations Works:

Employer/employee engagement works when the two parties are able to come to a mutual understanding, establish common goals and commit as a team to reaching those goals. It’s a fantastic ideal, but since we’re talking group dynamics, it’s not likely to work without some help. Let’s face it, a couple (just two people) has a difficult time sometimes in doing this. If you have two groups of people trying to work together, you’re going to need some help! A relationship growing between two people has time. There’s no rush, no set time when that relationship has to be fully functional. A business does not have that luxury. Businesses have to function efficiently, like a well-maintained machine, progressing smoothly towards the goals that will keep them in business. Breakdowns or stalls mean loss of productivity, resulting in loss of money. Eventually, this could result in the demise of the business. At the very least, the business would never do more than struggle under the choke hold of poor relations.

Couples who want to succeed, but are having difficulty greater than they can cope with themselves, have options. Depending on their resources, they can ask friends for advice, buy books or hire a therapist. They have the time to keep trying new things until they find what works for them. A business already struggling with this problem and the resulting losses will not have the luxury of endless time or resources. Many companies ask their HR departments to take the responsibility of sorting these things out, but usually don’t ensure that this department has the tools required to do the job. The results often fall short of what was desired. The most successful solution involves choosing a “therapist” to handle the matter for the short term. If the therapist does the job properly, one series of “sessions” will resolve the matter, and part of that series will be giving the department chosen to deal with these matters the tools to do so, which resolves the matter for the long term. Investing in a “check-up” annually by the successful therapist helps to ensure the ongoing success of the program. What the therapist should do in order to best guarantee success is to first arrange to spend a few days observing the team as a whole, including any meetings. Since people will not usually behave naturally at first when being observed, three to five days is advisable, depending on the size of the group being observed. Be sure to take careful notes during that time so that you can tailor the workshops to the needs of that particular company.

When the observations are completed, have a closed meeting with each of the groups so that you can ascertain what each group’s expectations are. This is essential to finalizing in your mind what each group needs to achieve with the workshops, enabling you to adapt the workshop accordingly. After the workshops have been conducted, follow-up is critical to the successful implementation of the program. The therapist should be able to shadow for the week after the workshop, making certain that the groups are able to apply what they’ve learned, as well as ensuring that the responsible department has a full understanding of what they are now expected to do. Show that you care when you finish the project by leaving the door open for any support calls, and be certain to schedule the annual check-up at this time. Keep yourself in the loop so that any changes in staff don’t slip your notice.

What is needed to be successful:

Many of us in HR have the compassion needed for this work, but not all of us are candidates for this particular aspect of the field. Requirements include keen insight, balance, diplomacy and the ability to negotiate emotions and behaviors in such a way that each individual can come away feeling validated and empowered to go forward with the team. It also takes a certain amount of honest courage, because sometimes a toxic element will have to be addressed. If you have these abilities, welcome to the gratifying world of Employee Relations!


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