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Every employer wants happy employees. Satisfied workers perform better and are more loyal to the company. Because of this, you cannot afford to neglect the important area of employee relations, but between the chaos of the pandemic and global unrest we experienced throughout 2020 and now in 2021, it often gets pushed to the back burner.
It's understandable that this happens; employee relations does not seem like an urgent priority when compared to everything else going on. But in times like these, employee relations takes on an even greater importance than normal. And if neglected for too long, it can have undesired consequences for your company and team.
Employee relations focuses on ensuring that employees are happy, engaged and productive. Its role is to foster a good relationship between an employer and its employees. ER professionals track issues and investigate cases related to a wide range of topics, such as work policy violations, behavioral issues, coworker conflict, discrimination, performance problems and sexual harassment allegations.
Investigations make up a large chunk of an ER professional’s workload. According to HR Acuity’s 2019 Employee Relations Benchmark Study, the most common topics investigated by employee relations professionals are:
Before we dive more into what employee relations is and how you can improve it, let’s look at some workplace statistics that highlight why ER is so essential right now.
Some examples of tasks that an ER professional might carry out:
Employee relations is usually a part of the human resources department, so it does have some overlapping tasks and responsibilities. For example, an employee relations specialist might handle payroll and leaves of absence, much like an HR generalist would.
While there is a lot of overlap between human resources and employee relations, strictly speaking—unlike an HR generalist who would handle recruiting, training and many admin tasks—an ER specialist would deal specifically with relationships between employees and their employer, always with the goal of keeping employees satisfied and engaged.
So, bottom line: ER is HR, but HR is not always ER.
If you’re looking to improve employee relations at your company, here are seven ways to get started.
What good is a policy if no one knows it? How helpful is a resource that no one is aware exists? If HR wants to improve employee relations, it’s essential to improve communication with employees.
One area that can often be better communicated is the employee complaint or grievance policy. If an employee has a problem or concern, they need a way to voice it (or they risk growing resentful, and your company will suffer overall). In your employee handbook, outline a clear process for bringing a complaint forward and getting it resolved. Eliminate any confusion about how to proceed when a problem arises for an employee.
Not sure what your employees need? Ask. Many companies conduct quarterly or annual employee surveys to measure employee engagement as well as collect valuable feedback and opinions. Spend a good amount of time crafting the questions. The way you word a question has a huge impact on how helpful the answer is.
Part of an employee relations professional’s role is to develop policies that improve the employer-employee relationship and promote employee well-being. In your position, you’ll pay close attention to trends in data and respond by analyzing what they mean.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you noticed that working hours policy violations have been on the rise since Q1 of 2020. That’s when the pandemic began, and your company (like most others) switched to remote working. Your company’s standard working hours are from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. with one hour for a lunch break. But according to your employee monitoring software, many of your workers aren’t actually working at those times.
When you dig a little deeper, you find that—far from slacking off—your employees who are parents are juggling working for you remotely while homeschooling their children.
As an employee relations professional, you make the case to managers and HR that it is in the company’s best interest to adopt a flexible working hours policy so that employees can better manage work-life balance.
O.C. Tanner's 2019 Global Culture Report found that when leadership doesn't acknowledge accomplishments, employees are 74% less likely to stick with the company. When an employee feels unappreciated, engagement and loyalty will plummet.
Here are some ideas for praising and recognizing employees:
2020 took a toll on everyone’s mental health, and employers would do well to consider how they can improve well-being for their workforce. Consider offering or expanding an EAP that includes mental health resources, such as talk therapy.
According to the 2020 Workforce Attitudes report by Ginger, which provides on-demand mental health services, "the ability to text or video chat with a mental health provider was the number one service employees wanted from their mental health benefits." The study also found that COVID-19 is the number one stressor at work, followed by personal finances.
Begin by talking to employees and assessing their needs before you add resources to your EAP, and once you’ve added them, be sure your employees know to take advantage of these resources.
As its name implies, employee relations deals directly with human relationships. Because of this, an effective ER professional needs to develop high emotional intelligence, which is the ability to notice, identify and manage emotions in one’s self and others.
Your job may call upon you to defuse situations involving an employee’s poor performance, policy violations or experience of harassment—you’ll need to be highly attuned to people’s emotions and how best to manage them.
Thankfully, EQ isn’t something you either have or you don’t. It’s something anyone can work on and develop. You can even use the world’s first AI-powered coach, Coach Marlee, to increase your EQ using AI-powered coaching—all from the comfort of your computer.
The 2019 HR Acuity study mentioned earlier found that a huge barrier for employee relations professionals is lacking the technology to easily track and analyze ER data. Some companies are still using Excel spreadsheets or human resource management systems that just aren’t built for employee relations needs. Speak with your ER team and research the best software to help them do their job effectively.
As you can see, employee relations is a key part of any productive and healthy organization. By ensuring that the employer-employee relationship is strong, you can create an environment where every worker is empowered to do their best work.
Especially during times like these, where stress and uncertainty are at an all-time high, it is worth it to invest in bolstering your employee relations efforts. As a recap, some actionable next steps for you to take are: