Employee relations define the relationship between employers and employees. It focuses on both individual and collective relationships, helping line managers to establish good relationships with employees. Employee relations the new term introduced to replace industrial relations.

The term was changed to reflect the decline in trade union reach and influence, and the increasing individualisation of the employment relationship and individual workplace rights. This is not to say, however, that the trade union relationship no longer exists in the workplace at all – for many industries especially in the public sector, the influence from the trade union can still be felt, but overall across the wider economy, it is declining.

Employee relations can be used to manage workplace relationships and practice rather than just being seen as a management function. Improving employee relations is an essential factor to increasing levels of employee involvement and engagement.

Communication Is Key

Communication is vital to maintaining good employee relations. Communication is a two-way street, yet many organisations do not value it enough, or give it the attention it requires. Good communication involves:

  • Focusing on positive behaviour
  • Taking a proactive approach to problem-solving
  • Recommending solutions

Employers now need to be able to consult employees and gauge their attitudes, enabling them to spot any early signs of conflict and resolve it before the situation escalates.

Individual And Collective Relations

The contract of employment is the core of individual employee relations. Staff handbooks or manuals can also be important, as they will govern many important aspects of the employee relation, such as holidays, sickness absence and maternity leave. Employees are also given statutory employment rights, which will effect employee relations. Important employment legislation includes the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010.

Collective relationships concern industrial action, collective bargaining, consultation and arbitration. An employer may work with trade unions to negotiate certain terms for employees such as pay and conditions or health and safety.

Managing Conflict In The Workplace

Managing conflict in is a key consideration for all organisations, as it is an inherent part of the employer-employee relationship. Despite the decline in industrial action, workplace conflict is still something that needs to be managed. Individual or ‘unorganised conflict’ such as sickness absence, bullying and employee turnover can be just as costly as industrial action.

Organisations are shifting away from the more traditional methods used to resolved conflict, towards more alternative forms of dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution includes methods such as early neutral evaluation or mediation to resolve workplace disputes.

With alternative dispute resolution, less emphasis is placed on the formal models of disciplinary and grievance procedures. Alternative dispute resolution adopts an approach that is beneficial for both the employer and the employee, attempting to stop conflict at an early stage.

For an organisation to maintain good employee relations, it should be a tool which is used collaboratively, analysing ways in which both employers and employees can benefit from new schemes and initiatives. There is a growing belief that the needs of the employer and employee now align. However some businesses struggle to reconcile the needs of the business operating in a competitive market with the needs of the employees.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.

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