How you deal with your staff can make or break your business - they are one of your most important assets. Treat them badly and you’ll experience an exodus of talented employees. Treat them well however, and reap the rewards from hard-working, productive staff who enjoy their work and value their employer.
In short, happy employees are productive employees.
Yet, it's surprising how many businesses still overlook their staff, treating them as numbers rather than human beings, concentrating only on cost and efficiency.
What these managers fail to realise, is that later down the road, it's the business and customers who ultimately pay the price of poor leadership.
So, what exactly are employee relations?
Employee relations replaces the term industrial relations and covers much more than just the collective relationships between employers and their workforce. Whereas, previously, the focus fell on the influence of trade unions and collective workforce rights, a long-awaited shift towards individual workplace rights without membership is finally gaining traction.
Employee relations includes:
- working conditions, pay and benefits – (traditional issues associated with trade unions and collective workplace rights);
- work-life balance, rewards and recognition - (more culture-led and leadership dependent).
The key thing is managing those relations well. Whether you’re a business owner, line manager or HR consultant, our Culture Economy Report shows that fostering positive relations improves business performance.
Managing employee relations
Start with writing a transparent employee relations policy. Ours includes the company ethos, values and rules as well as guidance for how to address employee-related problems. Bear in mind that the way you deal with your business as a whole and with individual employees is likely to differ.
There's good news here. With the fall in trade unions, individual relationships between employers and their employees is on the rise.
Engaging with your employees is vital if you want to make sure they stay happy and productive. We recommend putting yourself in your people's shoes and considering their:
- job satisfaction,
- workflow and expectations,
- shared purpose and role,
- work effort
As an individual's needs vary greatly from employee to employee (gender, age, job and personality type etc.), work on developing trust and respect in your team. We've found that communication is key here, so try to provide an open, safe space or environment that encourages healthy and honest conversations. Face-to-face is typically the winner here.
Remember the last job you did that you loved? Did you enjoy it because you were made to feel important, because you were a valued part of a team or because you knew your work made a real difference to the success of a company?
By communicating with your employees, you will get a sense of what they want and how best to make them feel like you once did.
If you’re not open and honest with your workforce, you put your company's reputation and credibility at risk. Yes, trade union memberships are on the decline but they still exist. That's why it's best to err on the side of caution, particularly for those who work in the public sector.
Bear in mind that even if your staff aren’t affiliated with a trade union, how you treat and communicate with them will still have a massive impact on reputation and business performance. Remember, in our now all-digital world, social media opens the road for 'naming and shaming', so whether you're communicating to a collective department or individual, you're responsible for your actions and behaviours.
Talk isn't cheap
When you next strike up a dialogue with your team, remember to listen to their answers. Effective, healthy and productive conversations involve listening, dialogue and problem solving.
Be upfront with your staff about any changes to job status, roles and responsibilities as well as hours or pay. Remember you can also show support by finding a spare 5 minutes to check in.
The value of employee relations in small businesses
Do not underestimate the power of the workforce voice.
Small businesses have an advantage here. Setting the foundations for a great workplace culture and building strong relations is easier - logistically at least - for smaller companies and departments. By investing in your company goals and visions from the start, you set the route and pave the way for positive interdepartmental relations further down the line.
Disengaged staff are crippling for all business. So, if you're a small business with a tiny team, this loss in productivity could prove fatal. Also note, that energy is contagious. If one of your people becomes disgruntled, you can very quickly end up with all of them unhappy and a serious issue with your workforce. Engaging with staff early on also lays the groundwork for good practice as your company grows.
Make your employees feel valued rather than just mere workers in your business. It's the simple things, like talking to them, being honest about change and engaging them with praise and fulfilling tasks to improve mood and focus. We've found this is fundamental in building a positive atmosphere in which people want to work, rather than one where they’re constantly scanning the job ads for a company that shows appreciation and respect.
Check out our four different types of company culture and see where your company fits.