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Human Resources vs Employee Relations — The Key Differences to Note

Nov 22, 2022
HR Acuity
HR vs. ER

While they might seem much the same and they do somewhat overlap, human resources and employee relations serve separate purposes within an organization. Taking a closer look at both will allow you to understand their functions, why they’re important, and how HR Acuity can help you improve the two.

What is Human Resources and why is your HR team integral to your organization’s success?

Human resources (HR) can be defined as an overarching “umbrella” department that governs all issues and concerns relating to an organization’s workforce and working environment. Human resources managers and specialists handle a number of specialized tasks, such as:

Compensation and benefits

A human resources manager is responsible for managing employee remuneration, paid time off (PTO), health packages, and other perks. Complying with a state’s regulations in this regard is essential, as HR departments ensure that their organization adheres to relevant employment law.

Workplace safety

While it’s not always the case, HR sometimes takes a degree of responsibility in making certain that their organization’s working conditions are up to scratch and comply with applicable health and safety guidelines. An HR specialist might coordinate with a business unit and step in to handle compensation and any relevant paperwork concerning legal disputes that may arise.

Recruitment and exits

Some organizations have specialized sub-departments that oversee hiring but many leave it up to the HR department in general. A hiring or HR manager is in charge of a new employee’s entire employment from the moment they’re hired until they leave the company. HR oversees the recruitment and hiring process (including processing job applications, interviewing candidates and conducting salary negotiations) as well as the formalities and procedures applicable to dismissals and resignations.

Performance management

In conjunction with management, a human resources management employee or team runs the employee review process, including goal-setting and performance evaluation, and provides support to managers in sharing feedback with their employees. Helping employees grow within their roles is central to performance management.

Labor relations

HR departments often have HR representatives who specialize in labor relations (also known as industrial relations specialists). They control matters regarding employee unions like contract negotiations, arbitration and mediation, grievances, strikes, and other forms of collective bargaining.

Without an HR department, organizations are at risk of violating labor law (which can result in lengthy and costly lawsuits) and high employee turnover. Employees who aren’t safe, healthy, or properly compensated are likely to quit or flounder, and underperforming workers stand the chance of being dismissed.

If companies want to remain productive and profitable, they need to ensure that they have a well-functioning HR department. Without proper HR management, businesses quickly lose their competitive edge.

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What is Employee Relations?

Employee relations (ER), often part of the human resources department, is responsible for creating positive relationships and cultivating a constructive work environment that increases employee engagement, productivity, and trust. Employee relations is a specific HR discipline that focuses on building strong, positive interpersonal relationships between employees, and between employees and management. ER focuses on the creation, implementation and monitoring of programs designed to improve the employee experience and to foster harmony throughout an organization.

However, employee relations is really much more than policy setting, policing behavior, conducting investigations and managing conflicts. Good employee relations goes beyond this to create a company culture that improves the overall employee experience which leads to higher employee satisfaction, resulting in increased employee retention. HR Acuity further defines employee relations as the function that brings the legal and emotional contract between employers and employees to life. ER leaders are responsible for managing how organizations transparently nurture their culture and maintain healthy, lawful relationships that align with the company’s values and policies, at the workforce, team and individual level. 

The areas of focus within ER often pertain to: 

Conflict management

It’s the responsibility of employee relations staff to arbitrate and mediate when employees are involved in conflicts and any other type of workplace issue relating to relationships.

Incident investigations

When a rule, regulation or policy is violated, ER steps in to perform an inquiry. This sometimes, but not always, relates to issues like sexual harassment or racial discrimination. 

Day-to-day issues

Most often, ER issues are as simple as an employee requesting for leave or an accommodation. Those more day-to-day issues, while normal, can feel unnerving to the employee and even the manager involved, if they don’t have prior experience with them.

Employee-management liaisons

Because a good working relationship between an employee and their supervisor is critical for an organization’s success, employee relations specialists strive to enhance communication between organizational levels.

Employee Sentiment

Employee engagement — how employees connect to and feel about their workplace — is an important part of ER management. In addition to measuring how connected employees feel to a workplace via employee surveys or sentiment analysis, employee relations teams work to ensure that transparency and trust are woven throughout the employee experience. This reinforces the connection employees feel to the organization. 

Special events

ER teams often create learning sessions to share their processes with the entire organization. By imparting this information, they ensure that everyone, from managers to employees, understands what will happen in the course of work when an employee relations situation arises. 

Grievances and disputes

Similar to conflict management, ER gets involved when employees raise concerns about salaries, PTO, and other workplace issues (although these are often delegated to other divisions in the HR department).

Performance concerns and guidance

ER professionals often guide managers through the process of improving performance issues for their employees, ensuring a fair process is followed and documented to ensure the best chances of success for the employee and the best outcome for the organization.

Professional development

ER often partners with learning and development teams to provide subject matter expertise in manager training, particularly related to managing employee issues that may arise and what to do about them.

Good ER management is crucial for an organization’s well-being because employees need to feel emotionally and psychologically safe and supported at work to produce their best work. Respect and trust are rewarded with hard work and loyalty.

When ER is carried out properly, organizations enjoy higher output, increased employee retention, and a brand identity that’s held in high regard by employees and consumers or clients alike.

The distinctions between HR and ER

As we’ve seen, both HR and ER focus on employee well-being, albeit in quite different ways. Whereas human resource management is more concerned with employee and workplace logistics, employee relations management is centered on developing healthy employee relationships. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • Performance management vs employee-management liaison: HR (in collaboration with management) conducts team performance assessments and gives constructive feedback on how to improve. Meanwhile, an employee relations manager ensures relationships between employees and managers are healthy.
  • Workplace safety vs employee engagement: While HR professionals sometimes oversee employees’ physical health, ER is concerned with their psychological and emotional well-being. HR attends to working conditions and logistics, and ER focuses on mental health and support.
  • Compensation and benefits vs recognition and rewards: It’s HR’s duty to ensure employees are appropriately remunerated and receive perks and packages as mandated by law. By contrast, ER works to make certain that workers feel appreciated and respected on a more emotional and psychological level.

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Advanced solutions to elevate your HR and employee relations

HR and ER employees are people too and, as such, they’re likely to make mistakes. When you leave all processes up to humans, you’re bound to encounter time delays, miscommunications, and inaccuracies. By utilizing intelligent, data-driven platforms, you can streamline your HR and ER processes to become more efficient, reduce error rates and improve communication. 

As a result, your organization can enjoy greater productivity, decreased employee turnover rates, and lessened expenses. HR Acuity offers a range of cutting-edge digital HR and ER management solutions that have been specifically designed to allow you to gather and analyze data accurately so that you can make informed business decisions. 

Our software will enable you to:

  • Ensure compliance with legal standards.
  • Access information in a centralized location.
  • Intervene proactively if and when needed.
  • Conduct investigations thoroughly.
  • Identify trends quickly.

By partnering with us, you can experience a 20% increase in organizational efficiency and a 520% increase in return on investment (ROI). If you’d like to learn how we can make this a reality for your organization too, contact us to schedule a demo. We’d also be delighted to talk through our wide range of products and services to determine which ones are right for you. 

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