Complete Guide to HR Strategy: Employment Relations Policies (With Examples)
Actively managing employee relations through policy is one of the key roles of an HR practitioner.
These policies work to strengthen the employee experience and reduce the risk of employee complaints through clearly defined processes.
On an organisational level, this requires maintenance and improvement to allow this relationship to work in good faith. With the right employment relations policies in place, even tricky situations can be mitigated.
These policies can go largely unnoticed until the views of the employer and employee begin to differ. Then, they can work to align these views once more and manage the outcomes.
Symptoms of Poor Employment Relations
Assessing the current landscape of the workplace will allow you to set priorities for improving employment relations. The following symptoms of poor employment relations can give you a starting point for your strategy.
A long-standing, established union may not be cause for concern within most workplaces. However, smaller unions that are being established currently may spell out the fact that employees aren’t feeling listened to on an individual basis.
Dealing with unions and giving employees paid time to carry out union duties can prove problematic for a business. Working on complaints and communication procedures can assist in avoiding this eventuality.
A demotivated, disgruntled workforce won’t be putting forward their best work. They may feel resentful due to uninvestigated complaints, poor interpersonal relationships or badly handled changes within the workforce.
This overarching issue can take a lot of investigation and improvement to remedy. Each employee will have had a different relationship with the employer, with managers and changes affecting each differently.
Diagnosing the reasoning behind poor performance is time consuming, but overall improvements to employment relations policies can improve productivity. Improving the culture and perception of the employer can drive better performance.
Staff that feel burned by poor employment relations can have a higher rate of absenteeism. This may be because they’re not motivated to come to work or have mental health issues that are exacerbated by the culture of the workplace.
On an organisational level, a trend of absenteeism can be indicative of a wider issue. This could be that staff are demotivated or that managers don’t have clearly defined absence policies that they can exercise.
High Staff Turnover
Staff departing in droves as a result of unpopular changes or deteriorating employment relations is harmful for a business. This shows that employees are not being involved with these decisions, which forces them into an ultimatum.
Litigation and Tribunals
A litigation or tribunal is a clear red flag about the organisation’s employee relations policies. While you may think the claim is spurious, it shows that the communication between parties has broken down to the point of no return. This may be an isolated incident or part of a wider trend, either way HR have to tackle it head on.
Employment Relations Policies to Highlight in Your HR Strategy
As you lay out your HR strategy for the coming years, consider how employee relations will be covered. It’s essential to address the aims of these relations and how they will change over the period highlighted in your strategy.
Consistency within the workforce is the aim of these policies, as the method by which issues are dealt with are clearly outlined. Use this space in your strategy to account for changes, prepare for organisational developments and resource effectively to improve employment relations.
This concept is more than just a buzzword, as high engagement drives better profits for organisations. Through the course of your employment relations policies, you want to treat employees well and fairly to increase employee engagement.
Within this portion of your strategy, you can marry this with other initiatives that you have in place. These will impact on the policies that you have currently, so use this plan to lay out how you will change them to respond to this.
If you want to benefit from employing diverse team members, then you have to actively manage this relationship. Where no official policy exists to prevent discrimination, diverse team members may be reticent to come forward when this occurs.
While you may not have had need for these policies in the past, your HR strategy is a great place to decide how you will implement them. You may be bringing in new initiatives to give women leadership roles or hire more diversely, as such you should bring in policies to support these initiatives.
A commitment to diversity can be seen as mere lip service without strong policies to back this up.
As organisations grow and change structure, there’s a need to review and update communication plans. Regular reviews of communication and confidentiality protects both parties.
Strong communication and methods by which employees can communicate in confidence make for a better relationship.
Should an employee wish to bring a grievance, your policies should outline who and how they should communicate this. This reduces the likelihood of employees becoming dissatisfied and discussing these grievances among themselves.
Look back at exit interviews and issues around communication in the organisation; this will show you if revamping your communication policies require attention in future.
Involvement and Participation
How do you bring employees into decision making? As we discussed in our Total Reward Management Guide, this has a role to play within the rewards strategy of a business, as employees feel valued when their opinion is heard.
Creating a process by which employees are invited to participate in decisions can be very beneficial. Outline this in your policies, as this will help to ensure that a standardised procedure is followed to give all employees a voice.
Where appropriate, you may also choose to allow for discretion that gives employees more autonomy on how they conduct tasks.
This can improve participation in the workplace, as employees feel more connected with the work that they do. This requires policies to shift as managers are encouraged to take results into account, rather than the desire to conform to rigidity.
While this may be a large-scale initiative within your HR strategy, you should also support this with clear policies.
The conditions that workers experience form another component of their relationship with the company. Policies and strategies should exist to ensure that these hours are fair, holidays are allocated, and reasonable adjustments are made.
There are many strong arguments for going above and beyond your legal requirements relating to working conditions.
The discussion around work-life balance is always shifting, and we’re more aware of this concept than ever before. This forms a major part of the employment relationship, as employees need to feel that they have this balance to form a good opinion of their employer.
Through your policies, you can give workers more autonomy and allow for leniency for emergencies. These practices help your employees to feel valued by the company and more able to deal with other commitments in their lives.
Negotiation and Bargaining
HR should be involved in creating policies around individual negotiations and collective dialogue. Whether dealing with an individual, group or formal union – your goal should be to keep the conversation productive and moving towards a fair solution.
Ensure that you know the law surrounding negotiation, especially where it relates to unions. These groups advocate for the rights of employees and can be quick to legal action where they feel this is merited.
Employees are also entitled to paid time off to carry out duties on behalf of their union and must be given relevant information to act upon.
By keeping good employment relations, talks and negotiations should not break down into strike action or mass walkouts. This may mean changing policies that are viewed as unfair or reiterating unclear ones.
Conflicts within a team and the wider workforce have the potential to derail productivity. Employees that are facing conflict with one another or the organisation won’t be as productive as their counterparts.
This can be difficult to manage, but HR shouldn’t shy away from outlining formal conflict resolution measures to solve this. This gives managers the tools that they need to solve these issues consistently, regardless of their individual feelings on the matter at hand.
If you don’t currently have this in place within your organisation, or wish to improve the existing policy, then you can outline this within your strategy. This may need to be made simpler or less time consuming, depending on feedback from employees.
HR should be present to facilitate this conversation, offering support to supervisors that are dealing with these conflicts.
Change Management and Management Control
By aligning with the organisational changes that you see in future, you can prepare for any fallout from employees. The practice of proactive change management can improve the employee experience, as clear communication and planning minimises damage to the relationship.
While these changes can be difficult for employees, active management can preserve this relationship.
For anticipated changes, like mergers and redundancies, HR can work this into a longer-term strategy. This strategy can outline what will be done in the run up to the change, such as consultations, communication and additional resources for employees.
The way that you handle disciplinary actions will be apt to change over time, as case law evolves and the needs of the workforce change.
Not only should HR be aware of these changes, they should also communicate this to all managers and supervisors. This may mean additional training on hand to upskill managers and ensure compliance.
Disciplinary action should be handled informally where appropriate. For example, managers can coach employees to improve their performance before issuing formal warnings.
However, managers that are acting with this kind of discretion have to be confident in their abilities to do so. While this may be appropriate to coach a poor performer, it wouldn’t be appropriate to cover up gross misconduct.
If this is a weakness in your organisation, then think about how your can strategize to fix this. New training, clearer policies and present HR representatives can all mitigate the need for disciplinary action.
Complaints and Investigations
Defining a complaints procedure and subsequent investigation will clearly communicate what should happen. This gives managers a resource to refer to when these conversations come up with their direct reports.
HR should record all complaints and follow an impartial investigation with full documentation. Handling these investigations discretely and sensitively helps to preserve a good relationship with all employees involved.
This can be placed in your HR strategy, as you work to train managers and ensure an open organisation in which complaints are handled well. This can reduce staff turnover and create a better company culture, which can be included as long-term goals within your strategy.
Dealing with dismissal is never pleasant, but with the correct policies in place it can be legal and fair. This is the best possible outcome for the employer and employee, but it does take significant effort for this to be the case.
Managers need to understand the importance of actively managing their direct reports to get the performance that they need to see. Dismissal shouldn’t come as a surprise for employees that are struggling with performance, as steps should have been taken to improve this before dismissal.
If this skill is lacking within a manager, then further training may be required to give them the confidence to deal with performance issues head on.
Redundancies and lay-offs can be difficult to handle, as they’re stressful times in the employee experience. Dismissal can be warranted and even expected, whereas redundancies can come as a surprise to those outside of staffing decisions.
A clear redundancy policy will help to protect the company from any unfair dismissal claims. Cover individual results as well as mass redundancies, to create a comprehensive policy.
If this is something that you envisage coming into play in the future, due to the discontinuation of a product or new tech, you should prepare in advance.
Increasing Focus on Employment Relations
There’s more emphasis on employment relations than ever before, as brands want to establish themselves as a desirable place to work. The number of employment tribunals is also on the rise, meaning that employers need to ensure their policies are clear and comprehensive.
As you place an increased focus on this within your organisation, you can go above and beyond with these tactics.
The Role of Mediation
Mediation between disgruntled employees and the organisation can be beneficial to the employment relationship. Using HR or an independent consultant as a mediator can resolve an issue that would otherwise cause wider disruption.
The mediator’s role isn’t to suggest solutions, it’s to ensure that the conversation remains productive to allow for a solution to be found. With contentious disagreements, employees may allow emotions or ego to get in the way, which prevents the discussion from moving forward.
Management as an Example
Managers should really be acting as an example for other employees, which means they must hold themselves to a higher standard. For any new policies that you aim to bring in through the course of your strategy, you need to ensure that managers buy into these.
They need to champion and explain these policies to these direct reports, so they also need to believe in them. HR should work to gain this buy in by explaining the root cause of the policy and show how it benefits employees.
Using Organisational Goals
Tying your HR strategy into organisational goals will show that your department is a strategic part of the workforce. Use organisational goals as a starting point and build employment relations policies around this.
One goal may be to transition employees from a defunct department to a new one, in which case your policy focus should be on redundancies, interpersonal relationships and change management.
Offering support and development towards these goals is what differentiates a HR manager that simply ticks the box from an exceptional one.
You should be able to guide and plan for these changes, creating a better workplace for all workers. Putting together these plans in a pinch is never desirable, as this increases the likelihood of mistakes and missed opportunities.
Developing Common Interest
At a base level, the employee and employer should share a common interest. The employer wants the business to do well; employees also want this for continued employment. Day-to-day, this can break down to a point at which the two parties no longer appreciate this.
To realign these interests, HR can offer incentives for performance and communicate recognition. There has to be a connection between performance and purpose in order for employees to thrive.
This kind of common interest can come in many forms, depending what drives the organisation and its staff. It’s essential that this is authentic and useful for employees, otherwise this will merely seem like self-service on the part of the employer.
Wording and Creation
Now that you have an idea of the policies you want to implement and the elements you want to include, it's on to creating these. Here are some helpful pointers to give these policies a greater chance of success.
When creating policies, it can be tempting to use legalese and jargon. However, this will make it more difficult for employees to read and understand these policies.
While there may be certain jargon phrases that you need to include from a compliance point of view, you can soften these with more user-friendly language. Take the time to consult with employees about the policies that you distribute, to understand the points that they find difficult to understand.
As an HR practitioner, there may be terms that you believe to be widely understood but are infact confusing to those without your background.
If you work with those with additional needs, you may also want to provide these in an audio or dyslexia-friendly format. Employers that have a large proportion of younger employees that don’t have a lot of workplace experience can also place an emphasis on their understanding of these documents.
If you have a large workforce, or one that’s dispersed through different locations, it may not be possible to approach each employee individually. Instead, using software to distribute these documents and collect signatures could save your department a lot of time.
Some HRM systems will have this function, whereas other businesses may need to add this as an extra string to their HR bow. While you may still need to chase up some stragglers that don’t sing documents promptly, this is a much more expedient system than running around with a pen and paper.
For your record keeping, this can also keep all of the required documents and signature in one place digitally. If these are stored physically and insecurely, this can be a breach of GDPR and have serious implications for the organisation.
Policy is Just the Beginning
While the policy document lays out what employers can expect and what is expected of them, this is really just the beginning. HR have an obligation to take these concepts from policy to real action in the workplace.
It’s up to you to monitor, advise, interpret and guide employees way beyond simply gathering the signature. Be ready to change, add and remove policies as time goes on.
Examples of Employee Relations Policies
Employment relations policies govern much of the employee experience, cementing expectations between both parties.
Use these well to create an engaged workforce with clear guidelines that help them to work well. Then take these values off the paper and into their day-to-day roles to integrate your company values into their schedule.