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A Definition: What is Employee Relations?

Apr 14, 2022
HR Acuity

Employee relations (ER), often part of the human resources department, is responsible for creating positive relationships and cultivating a positive work environment that increases employee engagement, employee productivity and employee satisfaction. 

What is the Definition of Employee Relations? 

Employee relations is really much more than policy setting, policing behavior, conducting investigations and managing conflicts. HR Acuity defines employee relations as: 

  • The function that brings the legal and emotional contract between employers and employees to life.   
  • 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.  

Good employee relations is about creating a company culture that improves the employee experience, leads to higher employee satisfaction and, ultimately, results in increased employee retention. 

It’s about creating trust and an environment where employees feel that they can approach their human resources department, knowing they will feel heard and that appropriate action will be taken. 

With the Great Resignation now over a year old and still going strong, employee relations is even more critical to the employer-employee relationship in terms of implementing initiatives that foster open communication, respectful relationships, transparency and trust – creating a company culture that makes employees want to stay. 

How is Employee Relations Different From Human Resources? 

Many might think that Employee Relations and Human Resources are one and the same. The Employee Relations function is very often located within the Human Resources (HR) department, but HR is responsible for managing the entire employee lifecycle, including recruiting, hiring, onboarding, compensation, total rewards, benefits, performance management and employee exit from the organization. 

Employee relations is more concerned with creating a positive work culture and ensuring employee safety, encouraging employees to come forward when they have issues with leadership, their managers or other employees. Employee relations is also responsible for documenting employee issues, conducting workplace investigations into more serious matters, proactively identifying workplace hotspots that could bubble up to more serious issues and allegations, and meting out disciplinary action when warranted.  

Why is Employee Relations Important? 

Employee relations helps to create a company culture where employees feel safe and protected, which is critical if you’re looking to increase employee retention and improve job performance. Employees are an organization’s greatest asset, so it only makes sense that if you want to retain employees, you have to foster a work environment where employees want to come to work each day. If there is a lack of trust, equity or transparency, attracting and retaining good talent is nearly impossible. 

But how do you do that? 

You create a company culture that encourages employee feedback and a good work-life balance. An environment where employees are able to show up as who they are – their authentic selves – without fear of harassment. An environment where there is diversity and where all opinions are valued. An environment in which workplace conflicts are dealt with immediately, fairly and consistently. 

When you create a work environment where workers experience a positive employee experience with both their co-workers and managers, employees are happier and more productive because they feel valued and cared for. Companies with good employee relations also tend to see lower absenteeism, tardiness and turnover rates. 

What is the Role of Employee Relations in an Organization? 

The role of employee relations is to create better relationships among employees and between employees and their managers, contributing to increased employee engagement and a better work environment. 

But fostering a healthy workplace is just one of the things that employee relations is responsible for. It also is involved with performance management and professional development, helping to improve employee performance to ensure optimal productivity, which translates to a healthier bottom line and a positive brand reputation. 

Another major focus area for employee relations is addressing and investigating workplace conflicts and inappropriate behaviors among team members and resolving employee issues, along with disciplinary action where needed. By looking at data connected to employee issues, employee relations professionals can identify specific causes of workplace conflicts, and identify managers, locations or employees who may be at the center of repeated employee relations issues. 

What are Some Examples of Common Employee Relations Issues? 

These are some of the typical issues that an employee relations manager deals with:

  • Onboarding new employees, setting up mentoring programs and ensuring that new hires receive and sign a copy of all employee relations policies and an employee handbook 
  • Handling employee issues related to their managers and disagreements with performance reviews 
  • Wage disputes, including pay equity across similar roles 
  • Time-off/absenteeism/tardiness issues  
  • Violations of any employee relations policy, including the organization’s social media policy, use of company equipment policy and safety and security policies 
  • Dealing with more serious types of misconduct, including sexual harassment and assault, all types of discrimination and workplace violence 
  • Determining whether an employee is abusing alcohol and/or substances at work and offering employee assistance when needed 
  • Examining employee benefits to determine if there are benefits that can be offered to increase employee job satisfaction and reduce turnover 
  • Helping people managers to improve communication and outcomes with their staff members and coaching people managers on having difficult conversations 

Many of these issues will affect employee productivity, employee engagement and employee morale if they are not handled consistently, compliantly and fairly. It’s important that employee relations management include transparent communication so that employees feel comfortable coming forward when they feel threatened or have a concern. Problems can’t be dealt with in the dark; they need to be brought into the light and addressed before an employee leaves.  

What are Some Employee Relations Best Practices? 

Organizations that have the best cultures, including HubSpot. RingCentral, Microsoft, Adobe and Zoom according to Employee Benefit News, promote positive workplaces fueled by equitable and fair compensation, opportunities for growth and consistent and transparent policies. 

What are some of the best practices that successful employee relations teams practice? Here are a few: 

  • They are clear about policies that employees must adhere to and what can happen if they don’t. 
  • They create a safe and protective work environment, where employees are unafraid to come forward with issues that are affecting their safety or well-being. 
  • They are transparent about processes and policies and ensure that al employees know about them. 
  • They look for the sources of workplace conflict and address them before they become bigger issues. 
  • They promote an inclusive work environment where employees aren’t discriminated against based on age, race, sex, religion, gender identification, political affiliation, etc. 
  • They encourage open dialogue and an exchange of ideas in a respectful and non-threatening environment where all opinions hold value. 
  • They foster learning and development and promote opportunities for advancement at every level of the organization. 
  • They encourage managers to create and maintain positive relations with their staff, knowing that one of the main reasons employees leave companies is due to their direct supervisors 

Employees want to feel happy and supported in their roles, and when employee relations incorporates these best practices into its strategy, it helps to nurture a culture where that is a primary goal. 

What are the Benefits of a Strong Employee Relations Strategy? 

Having a positive culture and healthy employer-employee relationships makes employees happy, and employees who are happy are more productive and willing to put forth greater effort. That translates to better customer service, better products and services, higher sales, better job candidates and an increase in the company’s bottom line. Managers who are equipped to cultivate positive relationships with their teams create a better work culture and an environment that employees are hesitant to leave. 

Successful companies care about what their employees think. They conduct surveys to uncover issues that make employees feel uncomfortable, unheard and uninvolved. They recognize and reward consistently good work. They save potentially millions of dollars on turnover each year, which makes the company more profitable and better able to continue to invest in perks and benefits that make employees feel valued and motivated to give even more of themselves. 

It’s also important that employee relations uses data and analytics to proactively track workplace trends and issues that could potentially damage the culture and increase the likelihood that employees will leave. 

An organization’s most valuable asset is its employees. When employee relations creates a strategy and a culture where employees feel valued, it increases employee loyalty and the company’s chances of ongoing success. 

Additional Resources: 

HR Acuity
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