Tag Archives: Employee Relations


11 Jun

I am proud to be an EMPLOYEE RELATIONS professional – the key to trust, working together effectively and achieving mutually beneficial results!

I have had various impressive HR titles and been associated with more high fallutin aspects of Human Resources, but the magic ingredient, I believe, that holds everything together, is Employee Relations. I should make it clear that although the employees we need to relate to are often quite junior, the same principles apply to relationships at all levels, including senior management.

HR people behind the scenes can work on impressive Human Capital Management programs and initiatives, but it is Employee Relations aspects that will often determine their success.  The same program can be seen as inspiring or can be seen as more HR foolishness depending on the thought, strategy and sensitivity that goes into implementation.  The way it is communicated to management and employees will determine its credibility – whether it is seen more as HRspeak or management  gibberish or whether it is seen as something of value to be thought through and objectively considered.

Employee Relations is not a simple selling process, but more the establishment of an environment where there is trust and confidence about the motives of management when they talk about subjects and initiatives – an environment within which employees feel valued for their contribution and intelligence.

Employee Relations does not have the same acceptance as other HR functions because it is not held together by tangible facts, universally applied strategy or precise methodology and program evaluation techniques.   It is less defined than other aspects of Human Resources and as a result is more challenging for Human Resources people wishing to become Employee Relations proficient.

Employee Relations is key to the success of engagement initiatives.  Employee Relations is critical in Labor Relations – in keeping the relationship between management and bargaining unit employees strongly in place – can make a decisive difference when employees are voting to accept a negotiated package or go on strike.  Employee Relations will determine the effectiveness of our business partnership with peers – our acceptance is not based simply on how smart we are, but how smart we are in projecting our smartness and the way in which we are committed to their (functional peers) interests and working with them.

Employee Relations is the icing on the cake for almost every HR initiative – the add-on to open many doors – ultimately the key to HR acceptance – regardless of whether or not the organization style is employee friendly.

If Employee Relations is so important, how can we become more proficient?  What do you think? There are books and courses, but a very practical approach could be to spend a day, away from the normal hustle and bustle and just think, reflect and try to understand who you are dealing with and communicating with on a day-to-day basis – try to see their needs from their perspective:

  • What is most important to the average employee?  What makes them feel good?  What turns them off?  As an employee, what kinds of things encourage MY buy-in?  To what extent, when I present things to employees, do I present them in a way that would influence me to accept (and be enthusiastic) if I was the person being sold to?
  • As a business partner, how do I want other business partners to communicate with me?  What is most important?  Is the way I approach business partners the way I would want them to approach me?  Am I projecting as an equal partner or a partner providing specific services?  If I present advice about THEIR business, is it the way I would like them to offer me advice about HR?
  • When I address issues with union employees am I communicating to gain their trust and confidence in the company?  Alternatively, am I addressing them as though they are the union and tainting dialogue with negativism and possibly some contempt?
  • When we are handling situation of extreme sensitivity do we ensure that our approach is professional and sensitive while still assuming a leadership role? This could apply to sickness, death, terminations and many different types of conflict and uncertainty that could seriously affect employees if handled badly.

If you have a problem thinking through the concepts outlined above and if they do not make much sense to you, then another approach could be to explore further, possibly with a coach or mentor, someone you respect on Employee Relations matters.  Earning your Employee Relations “badge” could make all the difference between remaining a backroom HR support person (although nothing wrong with that) or, becoming a great HR leader if that is your career goal.

How important do you consider Employee Relations?  What advice do you have for HR people seeking to become more effective Employee Relations practitioners?  Do you believe it is something that can be learned?  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.




How Important is MANAGER Engagement to Business Success?

26 Nov

Employee engagement is that elusive state of mind that inspires employees to really care about their work and be motivated to contribute at the highest level. Employees can be inspired because they are truly interested in the work and have genuine professional commitment. The more consistent path to employee engagement, however, is inspired by great managers and leaders who care and show, by their example, the way to genuine engagement. They inspire others to care and want to be part of their work environment and share the excitement and success.

We talk a lot about employee engagement. We talk a lot about what managers need to do to promote the engagement of others, but the personal engagement of managers is not frequently discussed. Managers are employees too and can equally be engaged or disengaged. How important, how necessary, is genuine MANAGER engagement to achieving the engagement of regular employees?

There are many types of managers and first line supervisors and their style and commitment can be expressed in many ways. Assuming the managers have excellent functional work management skills, some examples of leadership skills are:

Professional managers

  • Well trained in leadership skills and understanding the “tricks of the trade” and the needs of employees, they are in the best position, by doing the right things, to inspire employee engagement.  
  • Can a professional manager who is not personally engaged (possibly not detectable by others) still inspire the engagement of others?   They should be able to, I believe, but would the level of achieved engagement be affected?
  • If a manager has excellent skills, but is not the type of person people generally warm to (seems distant, superficial, not so friendly) can he/she still hope to achieve a high level of employee engagement?

Enthusiastic managers

  • A truly committed and engaged manager, who cares about employees and would like to see employees sharing the same level of enthusiasm and commitment. A manager who will do his/her best for the employees, including encouragement, communication and recognition.
  • The enthusiastic manager may have high potential to achieve employee engagement, but if he/she has not received significant management/leadership training, to what extent would that affect the effectiveness of employee engagement? Is there a risk that engagement achieved may be more personal (team solidarity) than focused on progressive work practices and continuous improvement?

Follow the boss manager

  • A manager who is not seen as an empowered manager or someone ready   to take a stand for employees or encouraging original thinking. He/she may frequently refer to what the “big boss” wants and if rules change would usually attribute the changes to what the boss (or HR) says has to be done.
  • If the “follower” manager has good skills and a reasonable level of personal engagement, is it likely that he/she can inspire the engagement of staff reporting to him/her?   Because engagement of the manager is primarily to the boss, would the follower manager, similarly have to sell engagement of employees to the big boss rather than to himself/herself?
  • Although employee engagement will be influenced by the practices of an organization and other external aspects, to what extent can an individual manager sell engagement based on the organization and its senior management rather than based on his/her own management style or likeability? What do you think?

Employee engagement is not essential but desirable for the effective operation of an organization. Based on surveys worldwide, the level of employee engagement seems generally quite low. How achievable is it? Are there certain requirements an organization should meet before making additional investment in employee engagement? Should the first requirement be that managers are properly trained in leadership skills and basic employee relations? How important is it for managers to be engaged before requiring the engagement of others? What do you consider most important?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.







Is Fair Treatment of Employees Essential for Engagement?

16 Nov

It is critical to engagement that an employee feels that he/she belongs to an organization that treats people fairly.  Employees need to know that if there is a problem it will be looked into promptly and a decision reached without delay to correct the problem and allow people to get back to their normal work life.   The issues may be serious, but the way the organization (usually the supervisor or HR) responds may be more damaging to the relationship, particularly if the response is perceived as offhand and promises are made (to check into something) and are not followed through.

Unfortunately, many organizations are notoriously bad at dealing with issues, sometimes lacking the expertise and sometimes deliberately ignoring or minimizing a problem, hoping it will go away.  It can also be corporate arrogance and dislike of complainers, even when they may have a valid complaint. Such corporate indifference to employee complaints (and general unfairness) is a common reason why employees may seek union representation and negotiate, for example, a grievance procedure that ensures more consistent handling of issues.

Many employee  issues relate to perceived favoritism, particularly wide variances in pay for people performing similar work, and perceived favoritism in who gets the overtime, who is selected for training and who the boss seems to like spending time with while being too busy for the rest.  There are also serious issues with discipline, employees who are allowed to get away with things and others who seem to be picked on for whatever reason. The organization may have sincere programs and initiatives to promote engagement, but without fair processes for handling employee issues, success is likely to be limited.

The supervisor may be frustrated that he/she is unable to achieve employee engagement, but if employees perceive the supervisor to be treating employee issues unfairly that is not surprising. The supervisor may become increasingly negative about the disengaged, poor attitude employees, while the employees feel increasingly helpless and victims of an unfair environment.  They do not feel they are listened to, even when they express their concerns in a respectful, professional way and in many cases, such unresolved issues, if sufficiently serious and widespread, may lead more towards unionization rather than engagement.


  • A policy (or equivalent) setting out  the company’s commitment to fairness and outlining steps to be followed in handling complaints, with emphasis on deadlines
  • A similar policy for investigating employee infractions, including the opportunity for the employee affected to tell his/her side of the story i.e. no pre-judgement
  • A proactive approach by the supervisor in dealing with perceived issues before they become formal complaints
  • No abdication on matters the supervisor may have no control over (e.g. job classification/evaluation or pay related) and ensuring and taking responsibility for follow up with the appropriate person e.g. in HR
  • To the extent possible, the supervisor should interact directly with employees in handling their concerns while, as necessary, getting advice and support from HR.  The communication should be as positive as possible, in the circumstances, and focus on building relationships and trust rather than appearing distant and hostile
  • If within the same organization, some sections are unionized, be aware of collective agreement provisions (e.g. grievance procedure and discipline) and ensure that company practices for non-union employees are similar in principle – certainly not inferior

It is critical that basic processes and relationships are established and working well before seeking greater engagement.  If the contrast between engagement initiatives and reality is too wide, engagement talk may be perceived as hypocrisy and more likely to result in employee backlash.  Engagement can be steadily achieved, step-by-step, but if attempted before basic commitments to employees have been met, it is unlikely to succeed.  What do you think? How important do you consider the contribution of effective dispute resolution processes to employee engagement?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.


How Can HR Best Support the CEO and Managers?

3 Nov

There are many business leaders (particularly CEOs) who are superb at visualizing the interplay of “hard” business factors and making critical decisions, but not so good at leading people beyond those in the immediate functional business team.   The CEO may not want to be. Isn’t that why HR is there? The CEO does not want to get too involved in day-to-day distractions and counts on HR to look after a number of things, mostly to do with the people.

HR may not agree. HR may want to be seen primarily as a business strategist, equally aloof to day-to-day distractions, more at ease at the “table” than on the shop floor, but that may be a mistake. The VP HR may be sensitive to the frequent criticism that Human Resources people do not understand the business well enough and overreact to distance himself/herself from the HR “touchy feely” stereotype. It is essential that HR fully understands the business, but it is what HR does with that knowledge that is most important and people management may indeed be a priority.


From my experience (the HR perspective), there are a number of basic people related things the CEO looks for from HR, for example:

  • When the HR person is escorting the CEO around the business premises, he/she knows the names of employees and can “tip off” the CEO in time for the CEO to dazzle people by appearing to know who everyone is
  • HR is a supreme problem solver and particularly efficient in handling issues with the CEO’s staff, or complaints etc. that have been submitted directly to the CEO, including petitions
  • HR is able to quickly recruit great people to fill critical vacancies to ensure continuity and avoid complaints to the CEO from people who think HR could do better.   This is probably the biggest challenge to HR as internal client expectations are often unrealistic. Or are they?
  • Meeting legal and compliance requirements with the least disruption or the need for the CEO to get directly involved, particularly if there are complaints e.g. human rights or occupational health and safety

If HR is able to meet the types of people issues described above, then the VP HR is more likely to be trusted and respected by the CEO to equally contribute on business matters. Does that make sense?


  • Line managers/supervisors want HR to be helpful and deal with their problems as quickly as possible, particularly problem employees when the supervisor may be anxious to discipline or terminate. Managers want HR to tell them how they can do it, not why they cannot do it!
  • Line managers/supervisors may NEED (not necessarily want) thorough training to meet their responsibilities as effectively as possible, and minimize the number of crises or avoidable conflicts, particularly on people related issues
  • Managers want HR to communicate helpfully in the language of their operation rather than complicated HR jargon that too often seems focused on telling them why they can’t do what they want to do. They are more likely to respond positively to HR advice if it is shared in an atmosphere of mutual respect rather than delivered in lecture style

HR helping by ensuring that appropriate management training is provided, can give the manager/supervisor greater confidence. The manager can use the acquired knowledge to anticipate and avoid problems and instead focus more on proactively promoting opportunities. By developing greater people expertise, the relationship between HR and the manager is likely to be mutually supportive rather than unbalanced when adequate training and support has not been received by the manager and philosophies can be very different.

Humility and recognizing reality (by all parties) is necessary to develop a winning formula. The CEO, for example, must recognize what he/she is good at and acknowledge necessary support he/she must count on from the executive team or others within the organization. In the same way the CEO may need PR support in developing skills to handle the media and publicly presenting the interests of the organization, the CEO may need HR support to set the scene in the way employee and workplace issues are handled on a day to day basis.

The smart CEO may learn how to respond and say the right things in presenting to and socializing with employees, but will count on HR to ensure that the workplace, from an employee relations perspective, is as effective as possible and the policies and programs in place are best designed to meet specific business needs. This winning formula may earn HR a place at the table, but not just as a talker, but a doer in the most practical and necessary way! What do you think? Do you believe that the people support we give to the CEO and to managers is essential to our HR success?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



HR Friends Celebrate Halloween the HR Way!

29 Oct

Sal, Solo and Sally were chatting over a coffee, which they did from time to time after the train journey back from the city. They took the same train to work every day and often met to travel home together or enjoy some diversion in the city. They had become good friends and particularly after they discovered that they all worked in Human Resources and were quite passionate about their work. They were still relatively early in their careers and still very idealistic about the meaning of Human Resources, and its benefit to business and people in general, if given a chance.

Halloween was just a few days away and they discussed how their different organizations planned to celebrate or, more accurately, allow its employees to celebrate. Employees were permitted to dress up on the day and there may have been some prizes awarded, but HR had little involvement apart from sharing some of the fun, but not usually dressing up themselves.

“We should get more involved this year” said Sally, “Maybe dress up, but something that symbolizes HR more than graveyards, skulls and severed arms”. They all thought it was a great idea and explored several themes. Sal suggested adopting the French national motto, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. They agreed that it was a great motto, but maybe did not accurately describe values that directly inspire and drive business.

The HR three agreed that although business owners may like freedom to operate how they wish, they did not promote freedom for employees, who were paid to work in a specified way, in return for pay. There was some freedom, for example to be innovative in finding ways to do the job better, but not too much. Equality was important, between employees in general, but their businesses were quite hierarchical and the call for equality was not normally proclaimed from the boardroom. Fraternity, they interpreted as friendship and although a great social value did not seem to be as relevant to business. Harmonious workplaces were important, cooperation, courtesy and open communication, but not quite the same as friendship.


After considerable discussion, more coffee and festive donuts, our three HR friends finally decided on “TRUSTING, CARING, SHARING” as their personal HR Halloween motto:

  • TRUSTING seemed important in so many ways. People said what they meant and followed through with what they said they would do, both employees and bosses and particularly HR. They could be trusted to do what is right and fair and following the spirit of what it was, not just the word
  • CARING was relevant to almost everything. A safe and supportive work environment, the way employees did their work, the way their bosses supported, encouraged, praised and rewarded employees for a job well done
  • SHARING was particularly important when people were committed to helping one another and were willing to mentor, give advice, share experiences and communicate positively together in every way. Sharing was particularly relevant in management being precise about work expectations, giving feedback and letting people know what was happening within the business and what they were all collectively working towards. Particularly nice is sharing success and milestones together, but not unfairly sharing blame when things do not go quite so well

Sally, Sol and Sally were very happy with their Halloween motto and planned to display it prominently in HR with maybe some treats (not tricks) to welcome Halloween visitors. They may dress up in some way or may expand on the theme with the cooperation of their bosses, but even if not, they felt really good that they had found a Halloween theme that seemed so appropriate to business and HR.

Our HR friends recognized that there were many other key words they could have selected, but felt very satisfied with their choice. What do you think? Are there theme words that you consider more appropriate, or suggestions about how we may best celebrate Halloween? I look forward to any thoughts and suggestions you may have.

Wishing you all a very HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


In Search of an Ideal Workplace

25 Oct

An ideal workplace would be a nice place to be for the majority of employees and at the same time successful from a business perspective and smart enough to remain ahead of the competition.  

The business would keep things as simple as possible to meet requirements and not oblige employees to play games and role-play any more than necessary.  Similarly, business values would be as sincere as possible, including practical obligations that need to be met for marketing in a competitive world.

People would be inspired by their own professionalism and motivation to get the job done well. They would not feel unduly obliged to change or mask their true personality and assume a business image alien to their own individuality – particularly if not necessary (simply an illusion) to get the job done.

The business would be defined by its practices. In turn, the executives and managers would be similarly defined, directly linked as upholders and implementers of the practices. Values and practices may include:

  • Appropriate levels of staffing to get the job done without forcing employees to frequently work excessive hours, possibly without pay
  • Work breaks and time-off from work that employees are expected to take to enjoy and refresh
  • Some flexibility (e.g. hours) to allow employees to meet important personal demands (e.g. children, care giving) while still able to fully meet job requirements
  • Fair processes to select employees for internal advancement, training or developmental opportunities based on objective and understood criteria
  • Fair and objective processes for handing disputes, problems and disciplinary processes
  • Adequate training and access to help to ensure employees have resources necessary to perform their job well
  • Ongoing communication so employees understand business challenges and are ready, willing and prepared to put in additional effort in exceptional times e.g. to meet a critical business order
  • Competent management and a strong HR department committed to upholding and promoting the values of the organization and to evaluating the continuing success of the organization, in real terms, in acting in accordance with its values

Nothing listed above is unusual and many organizations may have policies and procedures that are relevant. The difference in the “ideal” organization is that they would be followed with sincerity and pride. In addition, of course, the physical working environment would be appropriate and matters such as occupational health and safety practices and training taken very seriously.

It would be a workplace where people are calm, confident, committed (in their own individual ways) and able to get the job done without a fuss.  Leadership would be firm and fair, but still in touch with human reality and social conscience.

Here are some assumptions, including technology based, that should make the ideal workplace more possible:

  • The role of managers would focus on the efficient and strategic direction of the function for which they are responsible. Effectiveness would be tracked based on data that would be shared with employees, including performance data and feedback that would be tracked online. Relationships would be adult and respectful and managers would focus more on supporting employees rather than micro managing.       Employees would know where they stand at any point.
  • Technology would facilitate employees being largely self-regulated.   Logging in and out would take care of timekeeping and recording against labor distribution codes, when applicable, would feed the system automatically. Employees (and management) would know they are doing well from continuous online feedback, or, from the same source, receive alerts about any concerns or negative variances.  Performance management, as we know it today, would no longer exist.
  •  Training, help and support would be available at all times, whether online, from the manager or Human Resources.  HR would be very active in this environment with a strong employee relations, management support and trouble-shooting role.

What else would employees look for in an ideal workplace?  Pay, benefits and perquisites are important but may not directly affect life in the workplace, unless they are clearly not handled fairly.  People relationships, more than anything else, I believe, make it feel good about going to work and spending large amounts of time away from home.  People at work may be very different, but if there is mutual respect and a culture that promotes fair treatment and positive interrelationships, the differences may evolve as collective strengths. Enjoying the specific work (for what it is) is desirable but not always possible. However, performing less than exciting work in an environment with good people and sound and fair business practices can make the total employment package very desirable.

These are just a few initial thoughts about an ideal workplace.  Do they make sense?  Do you agree that there is a need for an adult environment and for a shift in performance management from retroactive management assessments to a more automated system with continuous feedback and related support systems?  Do you believe that a strong HR function is needed (particularly in fairly large organizations) and will be directly instrumental (with an appropriate mandate) in ensuring that the dream of an ideal workplace may become reality to the extent possible, in this imperfect world? What do you think?

Thank you for your interest.  I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.



Do Employees or Managers Have to Change the Most?

14 Oct

It is normal for bosses to try to think of ways to make the operations they are responsible for more efficient. Often they express frustration about the lack of interest or negative attitudes of employees. They may consider how they can get employees more engaged, but in many cases engagement is a few steps away and the first goal is simply to get employees to do what they are supposed to do in a reasonably proficient and concerned way.

Who is to blame? Has HR done a poor job hiring or finding new employees? The manager may make the final choice between candidates, but count on HR to do their part and provide the best advice – particularly when things go wrong! It is easy to blame HR. HR is never perfect, but the way employees behave – do their job – is more dependent on the direction and leadership given by their direct supervisor after they start work. How they performed in their previous job is only an accurate indicator if the environment was similar. Do you agree?

Most employees start a new job enthusiastic and determined to do well and recognize that they have to adapt to the way a particular organization operates. Employees react to their environment and generally are quite flexible because they want things to work out.   It is when employees became disillusioned and consider they are working in a hostile environment that things go wrong. If it reaches the stage that employees hate coming to work every day, it can go really wrong.

If employees have the appropriate skills and are reasonably flexible, they should do well. If things are not going well, do employees have to follow better or must their bosses be better leaders/managers? There may be odd cases when the employee is to blame, but in most cases, it is necessary for the manager to change to reasonably expect an improvement in employee commitment and performance in general.

It is more complicated, of course, because managers are also employees and equally reactive to their senior management bosses and the environment (culture) in general. If managers are to be more successful in motivating employees to work well and as a team, is it necessary, sometimes, for the manager to promote a local environment that may differ somewhat from the organization in general? This, I believe, is the way strong leaders can succeed, set an example and achieve recognition from their bosses. This can be particularly relevant for HR functions and HR management.

One of the greatest and most satisfying challenges for HR, is to try to turn around an organization that is failing (to some extent) due to poor management, poor employee relations practices and, probably, unfair treatment of employees.   HR can gradually succeed by adopting different approaches, but at the same time not alienating itself from the organization in general. HR would not operate as a breakaway unit, but in a way that is integral to the business and implementing improvements on behalf of and to the credit of the total organization. The same principles would apply to a smart manager who may need to lead employees in a better way than his bosses (and possibly peers) but would still be focusing on business success goals shared by all.

If things are not going well between a manager and employees supervised, the manager (with reasonable skills) can turn the situation around, but only if he/she is receptive to self-change and acknowledges that much of the blame for the current problem must rest on his/her shoulders. Here are some thoughts:

  • Most employees will work well if given appropriate direction
  • Thinking of strategies and motivators to encourage employee change is not enough if simply tacked on to what currently exists
  • The manager must be able to think through, believe in, and be committed to personal change. In many cases it can be very helpful for the manager to receive some coaching and possibly a professional assessment of his/her current style
  • Generic management training can be helpful, but only if the manager is able (and sufficiently honest) to reflect on differences between his/her current style and able to identify critical aspects that he/she needs to change
  • Feedback of various types can be helpful, but the manager should be cautious in seeking feedback from people (e.g. certain senior management) he/she does not respect – asking for advice and then not following it can be a problem

To achieve greater productivity and business success, I believe the greatest change must be by managers and supervisors and positive employee change will naturally evolve as a result. For our business to be what we want it to be, we must understand what we currently are and be brave enough to make the necessary changes, including our own behaviours and trust in others. What do you think?

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to any thoughts and comments you may have.


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