HR is responsible for managing the entire employee lifecycle. It starts right at hiring and goes up to exit processes. It is the job of HR to make sure that this journey is comfortable and productive for both employees and the company.

In this article, we’ll take you through the different types of workplace relations, the benefits of having them and the ways to improve workplace relationships.

What are Employee Relations?

Employee relations can be defined as the relationships between employees of the company. These relationships can be a manager to subordinate or peer to peer. It is the job of HR to improve employee relations within the organization through proactive policies and conflict resolution.

The best way to improve employee relations at work is to ensure that employees are considered stakeholders in the success of the company. If management and HR treat employees merely as the means to an end, there is a high probability of employees being disengaged.

What are the Different Types of Employee Relations?

Vertical Employee Relations

To put it simply, both vertical and horizontal employee relations are hierarchical in nature. This means that the manager and employee relationship is vertical.

An employee-manager relationship is unique because there are certain limitations to such a relationship. Managers must try to be empathetic, communicative, appreciative and friendly with their employees. Managers need to understand that they don’t need to be chase validation from their subordinates but they must be open to new ideas and change. There is a fine line that needs to be toed in an ideal boss-employee relationship.

Horizontal Employee Relations

Internal employee relations are the relationships between team members or employees on the same level within the company. Great horizontal employee relations examples are the relationships between those who indulge in casual water cooler talks. These employees may not be a part of the same team or even the same vertical but they have strong relationships due to their casual conversations a few times a day.

Horizontal employee relationships can be mapped by proactive HR professionals to find out influential employees within the organization who may not be placed very high in the hierarchy.

Source: McKinsey

What is Employee Relationship Management?

Employee relationship management is defined as the process to manage employee relations. This includes the relationship of the employee with the company, peers, upper management and immediate manager.

The importance of employee relationship management lies in the importance of employee relations themselves.

What are the 5 Pillars of Employee Relations?

Organizational Culture

Organizational culture is a collection of experiences, expectations and values. Company culture is essentially based on a set of both written and unwritten rules that have been developed over a period of time and are now considered normal.

Although this definition makes out organizational culture to be some nebulous rules enshrined in the company handbook, the reality is quite different. Organizational culture defines the appropriate behaviour for all employees. It also affects the way people interact with one another, clients and other external stakeholders.

HR must constantly redefine and reiterate what the organizational culture of the company is and why it must be followed. It is the basis of successful employee relations in any company.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement and employee relations are closely interconnected. Disengaged employees will not care about building good relationships with their managers or peers. Therefore all employee engagement activities must also be run with the end goal of bettering employee relations.

Conflict Resolution

Conflicts are the results of opposing viewpoints. However, opposing viewpoints are integral for the development and success of a company. So where do we draw the line? The involvement of HR in conflicts should be subject to their invitation for mediation. Often, both parties emerge stronger by resolving conflicts personally.

Workplace Investigations

Workplace investigations are the big brother of conflict resolution. In cases where there may be a lot of hearsay involved it makes sense to interview witnesses who were actually there. Although these investigations may be considered disruptive and costly they are important to prevent the deterioration of employee relations in certain situations.

Disciplinary Actions

Organizations must make sure that expectations are set and employees know what they’re supposed to do. Employees also need to be clear about all aspects of the disciplinary policy. The disciplinary actions must always be commensurate to the mistakes done.

Benefits of Employee Relationship Management

Improved Employee Loyalty

According to OfficeVibe, 50% of employees with a best friend at work felt a strong connection with their company. When employee relations are strong it leads to better employee retention and satisfaction.

Therefore, employees look at the company as more than just a cash cow. They look at the company as a place where they have a great group of friends and mentors who they’d miss if they switched to another.

Improvement in Productivity

According to a study conducted by a team of MIT researchers, idle chit-chat might actually be valuable to productivity. The researchers found that even small increases in social cohesiveness lead to large gains in productivity.

In addition to that, Humans are inherently competitive. This is one of the reasons that gamification works so well in many business processes. When employees want to outperform team members due to friendly competition and want to look good in the eyes of the manager, there is a drastic improvement in productivity.

Healthy Debate between Employees and Managers

No one likes a Yes-person at work. Without healthy debate, there is no way for innovative ideas to come to the forefront and create innovative solutions. With employees who are open and transparent with both peers and managers, healthy discourse is a given.

Work-life Integration

Millennials were the first generation to not actually want work-life balance. They wanted a solution where work was no longer fighting with “life”. This paved the way for work-life integration to take place in modern workplaces. Employees are no longer fighting work interruptions and managers are accomodating to life interrupting work. All this is because organizations are being more sensitive to the changing needs of employees.

What is the Role of Employee Relations in HR?

In larger companies, Employee Relationship Management is a specific function within HR. Some responsibilities of an Employee Relationship Manager are:

Policy and Culture Interpretation During Onboarding

Onboarding is a particularly tricky concept in the current scenario. Hiring is hard enough. However, for every new hire, the ERM must ensure that they are able to understand what the expectations are with regards to both conduct and performance.

Putting Out Fires

Every time that there is a conflict in the workplace that needs HR to step in, an Employee Relationship Manager does their part. All problems ranging from workplace discrimination to small tiffs come knocking on their door.

Arbitration with Unions

The unionization of employees is becoming increasingly common. Although traditionally unions were limited to blue-collar workers, white-collar employees are also unionizing.

The labour unions specialist is generally an employee relations manager who must handle all agreements, mediations and arbitrations with the union representatives.

Measuring Employee Satisfaction

Building employee relationships can be a nebulous task in some ways and measuring employee satisfaction can help give some clarity to this HR function.

ERMs use employee engagement surveys to find out how engaged employees are. Tools like Pep can help create and schedule pulse surveys that run right inside Slack, to keep a tab on employee satisfaction. Analyzing the results of this survey and using those insights to make changes is the job of the Employee Relationship Manager.

Monitoring Performance Issues and Taking Action

Although this is an uncomfortable conversation to have, employee performance issues need to be monitored to ensure that they don’t become major roadblocks. An ERM needs to coordinate with reporting managers and make sure that corrective actions are proposed.

Methods to Improve Employee Relations

According to a study by OfficeVibe, 70% of employees say friends at work is the most crucial element to work life.

The same study also found out that 54% of men and 74% of women would refuse a better paying job if it meant leaving the company.

It is pretty clear that employee relations, both vertical and horizontal, can improve employee performance, retention and engagement. With such benefits, HR should be introducing certain measures to improve employee relations.

Encourage Casual Social Interactions

HR can often look down upon casual water cooler conversation considering it petty gossip however areas like this can help people from different departments engage with one another. The organization can build friendships in many other ways.

For example, having teams from different departments have lunches together can help even introverts to engage with more people. Even small events like Open Mike Night and Karaoke Night can help build camaraderie among employees.

Avengers Style Team-Ups

Siloed organizations are often slow and hulking. The tech team doesn’t have any idea what marketing and sales are doing. The design team is overburdened with requests and HR is busy putting out fires.

For certain projects, it makes sense to create cross-functional teams where there is the benefit of unique ideas and innovative solutions.

Provide Modes of Communication

Emails are often the only mode of formal internal communications within organizations. Obviously, with the rise of Slack and MS Teams, things are slowly changing. But it is the job of an ERM to make channels of communication where employees can lighten up.

It may just be a “#random” channel on Slack but there need to be ways where employees can communicate casually within the office. One of the biggest employee relations challenges in the pandemic is communication between employees on anything other than a professional capacity. Remote work can be extremely isolating and improving communication can help employees build relationships that can see them through these tough times.

One on One Meetings with Managers

1:1 meetings are one of the underrepresented types of employee relations policies. Although managers and employees interact on a regular basis these can be very transactional. A one on one meeting gives employees the opportunity to put their views candidly to their managers. This contributes to more transparency and enhanced employee productivity.

Source: Deloitte

What are the Emerging Trends in Employee Relations?

Diversity Programs will be Actionable

Diversity and inclusion have been buzzwords for quite a few years now. However, with racial tensions flaring up in the United States and all over the world, these measures can’t just be ideas anymore.

People have gotten tired of promises and are now craving action. Movements like #PullUpForChange have reiterated just how important diversity is to the end consumer.

If firms want employees to feel more welcome they need to dive deep into their data and see how workplaces can become more diverse and inclusive.

Strategic Powerhouse

2020 was a year of a sudden change for HR. Workplaces suddenly had to deal with the challenges of new work situations, sanitization procedures, changing leave policies and rising anxiety. HR was suddenly functioning in a chaotic new world.

In 2021, the situations have only gotten tougher and made HR a strategic powerhouse in organizations. With complex questions around hybrid workforces, delayed compensation adjustments, vaccine regulations and much more, the next 2-3 years are going to be challenging.

Data-Driven Decision Making

People data and analytics have been buzzwords for quite some time. However, with the rise of remote work and changing needs, it is no longer optional.

Behavioural data of employees can be used to uncover patterns that can help take your organization forward. Some examples of these situations could be:

  • Will vaccination be mandatory for in-office employees?
  • Are employees looking to be remote full time?
  • Were some employees working exponentially better than others during the pandemic?
  • Was absenteeism lower or higher?
  • Were racial conflicts in the workplace mirroring trends of the outside world?
  • Was anxiety becoming one of the most common mental health challenges for employees?

We’ve tried to go over most of the facets of employee relationship management through this article. However, if you have more to add to this conversation do reach out to us at @HarmonizeHQ.