How Can Employment Relations Contribute to a HR Strategy?
As we emerge from the impact of the pandemic on work organisation, amidst the effort to attract and retain talent, employers as part of their HR Strategy are increasingly examining opportunities to build a better people experience at work. More typically this is about creating the environment, culture, leadership style and relationships that encourages every employee to give their best, more of the time.
As part of the corporate vision, the delivery of the HR strategy will normally be underpinned by:
opportunities for employees to grow and develop within the business,
engagement based on collaboration, resource planning and people development,
systems and processes that optimise service delivery, and
a culture based on strong corporate values.
The corporate commitment and effort is to look at all opportunities to improve the working experience so that all people feel engaged, energised and can take pride in their work and feel part of the organisation. The focus of this article is to consider how employment relations can contribute to a HR strategy which seeks to encourage more effective engagement.
Employment Relations is an Instrument for Building Trust-based Relationships
Increasingly, organisations are focussed on how employment relations (ER) can contribute to a better people experience. The shift to employment relations is seen as focusing on both individual and collective relationships in the workplace, with an increasing emphasis on direct forms of representation and helping line managers establish trust-based relationships with employees. A positive climate of employment relations - with high levels of employee involvement, commitment, and engagement - can improve business outcomes as well as contribute to employee wellbeing. This also signifies an increasing emphasis on helping line managers establish trust-based relationships and to increase the level of engagement with employees on issues that affect them.
The Role of Employee Voice
Increasing employee ‘voice’ encourages employees to share their ideas and opinions directly by having their input heard and involved at an early stage ahead of decisions and work solutions being finalised that affect them. Each employee should feel entirely comfortable discussing any work-related issues in the first instance with their manager. But it is the responsibility of each people manager to create an atmosphere whereby they will get honest and open feedback which helps to improve trust and the quality of relationships with employees.
People want to feel valued in contributing through their work and to be proud of their career with the company they work for. Where problems arise, organisations should not be afraid to do things differently to what has been tried in the past. The relationship between positive ER practice and its contribution to the people experience is of growing importance. It reflects the state of alignment between culture, behaviour and processes.
We know that evaluating the effectiveness of how people are led and managed is the bridge between the business strategy and what people do at work each day. The concept of ‘people experience’ must cover the whole employment experience and while this will change over time it is increasingly a growing part of the role of employment relations. Improved levels of employee engagement can be viewed as the outcome of a great or weak employee experience. It therefore includes the experience of HR policies, procedures, their fairness, including their implementation, ways of working and how contested issues or difference are resolved through informal and formal problem-solving processes.
The Changing Role of ER is Being Reflected in HR Structures
A positive climate of employment relations, with high levels of employee involvement and engagement, is a key enabler of enhanced business performance. Problem solving is an essential part of ER work but issues of problem sensing, and avoidance, is, in more progressive organisations, an increasingly greater and proactive focus for ER in working with line managers. Line managers must appreciate that people management and employment relations are a key part of their job for which they are accountable. Progressive ER is an essential part of the roll out of training and supports to managers to ensure they can understand and practice progressive ER.
This includes effective communications, building mutual trust, managing perceptions and beliefs, managers using an ethical and professional approach, setting clear expectations and in having effective and fair conflict resolution mechanisms with an emphasis on collaboration and the need for shared solutions, even when conflict arises.
However, as part of a reshaping of the work of ER, for organisations who have a legacy representation and recognition ER environment, and ways of working associated with those legacy agreements, or even where ER is more focussed on dispute resolution, employers increasingly need to ensure that ER frameworks are supportive of an involvement and engagement strategy to deliver for the business and on its corporate strategy.
A noticeable trend is the repositioning of employment relations by many of the larger multinationals. This is reflected in the appointment of heads of function, or function leads, with responsibility for ER, within the HR structure. In some instances, ER is being aligned with people operations which recognises the importance of ER in shaping the people strategy and developing a holistic approach to managing implementation issues, which anticipates both the business need whilst driving for a better employee experience. As an example, we have seen ER support being more aligned with the ‘People Experience’ agenda by having roles designated as People Experience Consultants (Employee Relations) to signify the strategic importance of the alignment between both ER and in shaping the employee experience.
Progressive ER Requires Effective HR Procedures, a Coherent HR Strategy and the Careful Management of Both Collective Bargaining and Employee Engagement
The management of employment relations is a strategic issue for most organisations. To underpin their business strategy, they promote an employment relationship which engenders a commitment to organisational goals and encourages behaviours which reflects the business values, allows the employee to identify with the organisation and be more productive in the service of its goals.
At its most effective, positive employment relations can support the development of managers by providing clear processes for managing an individual, or collective issues, as well as ensuring that managers are trained in the best practice operation of corporate policies. It is our experience that this is more likely to work best when line manager capability has been enhanced in the areas of:
Managing effective communications.
Understanding and consistency of application of organisation rules, expectations and behaviours.
Clarity of work assignment.
Problem anticipation and conflict resolution.
Self-awareness and understanding of personal impact.
The aim of ER should be to promote a progressive employment relations culture where employees and managers can be assertive in the context of a shared understanding and positive commitment to the organisation strategy and in executing their responsibilities in delivering that strategy. The ER function is increasingly expected to provide leadership in supporting the employee engagement model where it engages with employees on matters of change and workplace issues generally with the intention of doing so with employees at the lowest possible level and earliest stage.
ER must focus on both the individual and collective relationships (more typical of unionised environments) in the workplace. In this context, as part of the work of ER, the organisation may also wish to strengthen its direct engagement capability with employees whilst fully respecting agreed arrangements for dealing with trade unions under collective agreements and as stakeholders on significant issues of concern or change.
‘Strategic Employment Relations’
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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for practical guidance only and does not constitute legal or specific case advice. The answers to specific situations will vary depending on the circumstances of each case. This is not a substitute for specific professional advice relevant to individual circumstances facing your business.