What are Employee Relations?

What are Employee Relations?

This is a wide-ranging question that goes far beyond how you get with your employees, there are legal considerations here.

How you interact with your staff can make or break your business. Employees are one of the most important assets of your business. Treat them badly and you’ll see turnover. Treat them well and reap the rewards of happy, productive staff that value their employer.

You’ll be surprised at how many businesses still treat their employees as a number rather than the people they are. Doing so may bring efficiency but you are never going to grow. So, what are employee relations? eCard Shack is here to explain it all to you.

Read on to find out everything about employee relations, from the definition to the benefits and what you need to do…

How do you define employee relations?

Simply, employee relations covers everything concerned with the contractual, emotional, physical and practical relationship between employer and employee.

It used to be called “industrial relations” but has changed to employee relations as most of the relationship is actually non-industrial. It refers to a company’s efforts to create and maintain a positive relationship with its staff. Most of this is handled through an HR department.

Your HR department acts as an intermediary between employees and managers. This can be based on the creation of policies around employee issues, such as compensation, benefits, work-life balance and working hours. The HR department helps prevent and resolve problems or disputes and enforce policies that are fair to everyone.

Employee relations used to be concerned with conflict management and the different agendas of employers and employees. Now, however, it is used more collaboratively; it looks at ways both employer and employee can benefit from new schemes and initiatives. As mentioned above, employee relations include:

  • Working conditions, pay and benefits. Matters that were traditionally associated with trade unions and collective workplace rights
  • Work-life balance, rewards and recognition. These are more culture-led and leadership dependent.

Important: To maintain positive employee relations, you, as a business owner, must view employees as stakeholders and contributors to your company rather than just paid workers. This encourages managers and executives to seek employee feedback, to value their input, and to consider the employee experience in the decision-making process.

What is the legal position for employee relations?

Legally, there is a wide range of matters that apply to managing and maintaining employee relations – which also include potential problems.

These can be divided into two sections. These are the relationship between employers and individual employees as well as relationships which concern collective employees – your traditional unions.

Individuals Relationships

Contract law and the terms of the contract of employment you offer are at the heart of individual employee relations.

Individual relations will also include employers’ handbooks or staff manuals. In the UK at least, these must, as a minimum, comply with codes of practice on grievance and disciplinary procedures. Each employer handbooks will vary but will include many aspects of employment rights. This will include holiday allowances, sickness, forms of leave, communications and equal opportunities.

In addition to these matters, statutory employment rights apply to support contract law. These rights affect matters such as dismissal, mediation, and other forms of dispute and disciplinary handling. Examples of legislation affecting employee relations are circumstances around fair or unfair dismissal. They will also deal with discrimination and equal pay.

Tort law will also govern issues such as an employer’s liability for the acts of its employees and employer liability for accidents to staff.

Collective Relationships

Collective relationships under the law can include collective bargaining, information and consultation and industrial action.

Employers may work with recognised unions to negotiate pay and working conditions or to inform and consult over changes. These can include matters surrounding redundancies or health and safety. In the UK, there are two core pieces of legislation with the 1992 Act covering collective bargaining and redundancy consultation.

The most recent, in 2016, contains provisions about ballots, industrial action, and the abilities of the Certification Officer. They are responsible for statutory matters relating to trade unions and employers’ associations, such as registration and recognition.

How to manage your employee relations

Workplace conflicts remain a fact of business life. They need to be managed positively and proactively.

This is more than an argument, ‘conflict’ can include bullying or harassment, and employee turnover. They can be every bit as harmful and costly to your business as industrial action. Strong employee relations starts and ends with communication, from onboarding to the time they leave your business. You need to keep them engaged, informed and valued.

Here just a few things you should do to manage your employee relations when it comes to communication:

  • Read: ensure your new employees read the employer handbook and sign a confirmation that they have read it. This will also include all staff if you update the handbook.
  • Recognition: validate good work from your employees and the hard work they put in. Don’t wait to do so. Recognition goes a long way for a strong relationship.
  • Listen: Encourage your staff to suggest ideas and to give feedback on anything and everything to do with your business. Then, actually listen and act on it.
  • Open: Always be communicating. Let employees know that you are there to talk about their work or any other matter. Be transparent with them.
  • Clarity: Employees need to clearly understand their job roles and expectations. You can then help them meet those expectations. The same goes for clarity of your business.
  • Feedback: Provide frequent feedback to your employees on good work and constructive criticism on where they can improve. It’s essential for building a positive relationship.

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