A guide to getting employee relations right



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6 mins


How can you improve employee relations? Ciphr’s head of people shares four areas you need to focus on

In today’s world of work, employees want to make strong connections with their colleagues and managers and are keen to experience a sense of belonging, but how can organisations make this possible? One way is by focusing on and improving employee relations, which can help create positive employee experiences. Here, Ciphr’s head of people Gwenan West share what employee relations means, its benefits, and the ways that employers can improve relations.

What is the definition of employee relations?

Employee relations is the term used to describe the relationship between employers and employees. According to the CIPD, the term reflects the increasing individualisation of the employment relationship following the rise of individual workplace rights and the historical decline in trade union reach and influence.

West adds: “employee relations is everything to do with how you interact with your employees. It’s the building of the relationship between the employee and the employer and any measures that you might need to be putting in place to improve that relationship.

“Employee relations covers any interaction between the employer and the employee. From performance management, flexible working requests and restructures within the business, to absence management, wellbeing support and conflict resolution, employee relations focus on anything that affects that employee during their lifecycle at the company.”

What role do HR and line managers play?

There’s no clear answer to who handles employee relations, says West. It all depends on who is best suited according to the situation, and that can be either HR or line managers.

“In organisations without trade unions, there’s a bit more freedom for different people to get involved in employee relations and a bit more of a flexible structure to be able to have open, honest conversations with employees. This means the line manager could handle employee relations, with the advice of HR, or it could be HR communicating directly with the employee.”

West points out that “HR has to have some input in employee relations because they need to be there to advise the managers on how to deal with issues, but it’s up to line managers in most cases to handle employee relations.

“If an employee has an issue with the line manager, they won’t want to speak directly to the line manager about it. In this case, they would turn to HR to handle it. If, however, a line manager wants to discuss performance or absence management with an employee, they can talk between themselves without having to involve HR.”

Importance of good employee relations

Positive interactions between employees and employers can have many benefits for all parties.

“If the relationship between employees and employers is one that is built around honesty and transparency, employees will feel more comfortable in the workplace and more trusting of their manager,” says West.

“For the organisation, this increased trust means employees are more likely to be engaged and perform better at work, and this satisfaction at work means you can retain talent.” 

How to improve employee relations

To experience the benefits of good employee relations, you need to make sure that you are handling employee relations in the best way possible. According to West, here are four areas you need to be focusing on to do this:

1. Ensure managers are trained up

“HR’s role in employee relations is to ensure that all managers have the tools and training they need to be able to help their employees.”

According to the CIPD, managing the employment relationship rests heavily on the shoulders of line managers, but their competence in this area is often seriously neglected, with many employers failing to see employee relations and conflict management as a strategic issue.

As a result, HR should make sure managers get the training and support they need in areas such as teamwork and change management so that they are confident in communicating with employees and handling issues.

2. Build trust

To improve relationships in the workplace, both HR and managers should make sure there is a culture of trust present in the organisation.

West says: “You should make sure employees have a pathway to be able to raise issues, share feedback, and to be open and honest.”

One way to build trust is by taking the time to listen to employees and invest in technology that can help employees share feedback. By doing this, you can show employees that you value their opinion and that you are constantly taking action to improve employee relations.

3. Use case management software

Investing in HR case management software, enables employees to “more easily raise awareness of issues and they, along with managers and HR, can track the status of the case and see how the issue is being resolved,” says West.

The case management functionality within Ciphr HR, for example, can help HR teams record, manage, and track cases securely and efficiently through defined workflows, automated reminders, and auditable histories of actions and correspondence.

Such software can contribute towards a culture of transparency and to an open and honest relationship between employees and employers.

4. Build a toolkit of policies

On a final note, West says that employers can improve employee relations by making sure managers are provided with a toolkit of resources.

“HR can assist and guide managers by providing them with a toolkit of all the policies and procedures they need to follow.”

Managers should know that there is a toolkit available, and it should provide them with everything they might need to know about to deal with employee relations. In this case, HR should act as an advisor in the background and support managers.

A toolkit, however, shouldn’t just be for managers. West adds that “you should also put together a toolkit of resources for employees which are easy to access, and which detail what employees’ rights are, how to raise a grievance, and more, so that both employees and employers are equipped with everything they need to improve employee relations.”