Employee Relations, HR Management, HR Strategy


“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

-Jack Welch, former CEO of GE

All too often we as consultants come in to assist a business that does not understand why it is struggling. They say that they have someone taking care of HR and don’t really know how we can help them. Truth is, they have someone taking care of just part of the HR responsibility — the paperwork is being collected, people are being paid, and benefits are enrolled. However, there is no one putting an intentional focus on Employee Relations.

The Human Resources function spends so much time on necessary day to day transactional activities. However, Employee Relations cannot be overlooked as it focuses on managing the important relationship between the Employer and Employee. The main goal of Employee Relations is to develop and encourage a positive relationship among the employer, employees, and co-workers. This focus on Employee Relations encourages a sense of community, which in turn increases company productivity and increases employee retention.

So, what is Employee Relations if it goes beyond payroll and benefits? Employee Relations takes the HR role into a strategic relationship, managing many of the responsibilities related to employment including policy development and interpretation, public relations, liaison between different employees, employee programs, training and development, harassment investigations (and prevention) and diversity/inclusion efforts.

Ultimately, the goal of Employee Relations is to both reinforce your company’s culture and make sure that employees can be productive and get along with each other. This is why Employee Relations is one of the most fundamental HR skills to foster relationships within the organization.

What’s the magic in excellent Employee Relations? Like most things, it comes from good communication. Effective, clear, and timely communications that helps employers avoid problems before they arise. If there are problems in the workplace, a company with a good communication structure can resolve them faster than if they’re allowed to build up over time. Having better communication will lead to your employees feeling valued, involved, and connected.

How do you know if you have poor Employee Relations? Any workplace that experiences workplace bullying, lack of honesty, lack of flexibility, low trust among employees and employers, poor and ineffective managers, unclear policies, and workplace conflicts are the most significant signs that healthy employee relations aren’t to be had.

What’s the harm in not having great Employee Relations if the job’s getting done? Isn’t everyone just here to work? Experience shows that bad employee relations mean increased turnover and increased hire costs. Why would a disengaged and unhappy employee stay? Poor work relations will ensure that most of your top professionals will likely look for opportunities elsewhere, even if your positions pay well for doing the job.

So how do you foster an atmosphere of excellent Employee Relations?

Great Communication: make sure is timely, transparent, and relevant. And that it goes both ways – encourage feedback from your employees. Also, make sure you are keeping employees in the loop of company goals, plans, and initiatives and how they all support the company’s mission. Asking for blind obedience without letting employees have enough information to give true buy in is going to be a challenge when expecting employee support and loyalty.

Plan on Conflict: which means knowing how to prevent and mitigate it when it happens. A lot of Employee Relations comes down to anticipating problems and then establishing plans to address them before they happen. This includes clear anti-harassment policies, good diversity plans, philosophies on addressing compensation and wages, and succession planning. When there is an issue, then you must address it quickly and thoroughly. Don’t ignore concerns as being trivial, and don’t make employees wait too long for a reply.

Encourage Collaboration: Plan projects and activities that intentionally involve multiple departments and a mix of employees. Plan on cross-training among departments, and if this is not possible, plan on social time between departments so that no one is working in a silo.

Invest in your Employees: Offer training, professional development, and mentoring to your employees. Nowadays, employees are ready to make the next move after a few years in an organization. A good Employee Relations program will help develop career pathing or skill pathing opportunities for employees. Even organizations that do not have a high career ladder to climb can offer more skills to teach.

Celebrate: Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, babies, holidays, promotions, personal achievements, and the wins, whether big or small. You don’t need to plan a big event or spend a lot of money on each of these – even just a small recognition or announcement will help employees feel seen and appreciated.

Support Work/Life Harmony: If your employees don’t feel that they are appreciated as individuals with lives outside of work, they won’t stay with you. Be respectful concerning their time spent outside of the office. Also, consider what other benefits you can provide that support their personal interests and hobbies.

Like any relationship, the Employee/Employer relationship takes work and needs to be intentionally fostered. Viewing it only as a “give and take” won’t let it reach its full potential, and likewise your company won’t reach its full potential. However, once you’ve established great Employee Relations, you’ll find a loyal employee workforce that will see you through your good times and your bad and will go the extra mile.


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