What is Employee Relations: A Guide for HR Professionals

What is Employee Relations: A Guide for HR Professionals
Last Updated: October 20, 2023

Employee relations is a professional function focusing on developing a positive relationship between an employer and its employees. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development defined employee relations as the dynamic relationship between employers and employees within an organization. This encompasses the informal and formal collaborations, practices, policies, and strategies that shape the employment relationship. It involves conflict management, negotiations, communication, and efforts to create a positive work environment.

Understanding employee relations

Various scholars have attempted to define the concept of employee relations. According to Heery & Noon (2008), employee relations encompass organizations' strategies and processes to create a conducive and fair work environment. It promotes cooperation, communication, and mutual understanding between management and employees. Employee relations address employment conditions, job satisfaction, and labour relations.

Gennard and Judge coined a similar definition in 2002. They describe employee relations as a study of the rules, regulations and agreements by which employees are managed as individuals and as a collective group. Gennard and Judge found that the priority given to the individual as opposed to the collective relationship varies across organizations.

It is important to note that employee relations focus on gaining employee commitment to achieve the organization's business goals and objectives.

The U.S. alone currently employs approximately 27,000 employee relations specialists. This reflects the significance of employee relations to the success of organizations. Forbes found that businesses fostering cordial employee relations had productivity that was 22% greater than those without.

Theories informing employee relations


Several theories and models influence employee relations. These aim to help organizations manage relationships with employees. The theories offer conceptual frameworks for comprehending and enhancing the interactions between employers and their employees.

1. Unitarism

The unitary approach argues that there is only one source of authority i.e., the management. The management owns and controls the dynamics of decision-making in issues relating to negotiation and bargaining. Under a unitary approach, industrial relations are grounded in cooperation, individual treatment, teamwork, and shared goals.

Employee relations influenced by unitarism believe that accomplishing the organization's goals is a shared objective of all personnel. Conflict is viewed as irregular and is blamed on ineffective communication, miscommunication, or troublemakers.

2. Pluralism

Pluralism varies significantly from the unitary approach. It assumes that the organization comprises individuals who form distinct groups with their own set of aims, objectives, leadership styles, and value propositions.

In contrast to the unitary approach, the pluralistic approach views disagreement between management and employees as rational and unavoidable. There will always be friction within and between the different sectional groupings because the organization is multi-structured.

3. Psychological Contract Theory

The psychological contract theory explores the unwritten, mutual expectations between management and workers. Emphasis is on the importance of equality, reciprocity and trust in the employment relationship. When these expectations are met, it can lead to greater job commitment and satisfaction.

Although the psychological contract is not legal, its impact on employees and productivity is the same. Employees may become disgruntled and less motivated if they believe the employer has broken the psychological contract. This might result in lower output, absenteeism, and turnover.

4. Human Relations Theory (by Elton Mayo)

This framework emphasizes the significance of social and psychological variables in the workplace. It implies that social connection and recognition needs are important motivators for workers in addition to monetary rewards. The foundation of this theory is building supportive workplace environments and cultivating strong interpersonal relationships.

The human relations theory has significantly impacted management practice. It has prompted the creation of several practices to improve working conditions, including employee involvement, open communication, and job enrichment.

What are the 4 pillars of employee relations?

The pillars are core ideas that guide the creation and upkeep of a good relationship between employers and employees. These pillars are necessary for fostering a culture of good employee relations, which can enhance business results and boost employee morale and well-being.

Pillars of Employee Relations

1. Communication

The foundation of positive employee relations is effective communication. Communication between management, staff, and other teams within the company must be open and transparent. It offers opportunities for employees to express their worries, ideas, and comments. Building trust, alignment, and a sense of belonging among employees are all facilitated by effective communication.

According to research, effective communication enhances cordial employee relations and minimizes strikes and lockouts. There is research to suggest that effective communication increases productivity. A published statistics paper found that 7 in 10 business leaders believe effective communication has increased their team's productivity.

2. Conflict Resolution

Any workplace will experience conflict, but how it is handled and resolved will have a significant impact on employee relations. For resolving conflicts, disagreements, or grievances that could occur between employees or between employees and management, a strong conflict resolution procedure is crucial. Conflicts can be avoided from escalating and be detrimental to the workplace by using fair and unbiased settlement processes.

Research suggests that conflict resolution is an essential component of employee relations. The most fruitful ways to resolve conflict are through cooperation or compromise because there is no winner or loser but rather a joint effort to find the best possible solution.

3. Employee Engagement

Investopedia defines employee engagement as a worker's enthusiasm and dedication toward their job.

This pillar focuses on methods and programs to maintain workers' interest in their jobs. This entails allowing staff members to improve their skills, involving them in decision-making, praising and rewarding their efforts, and building an organizational culture that supports their values and objectives. [Read More]

Key findings from research have indicated that organizations with high employee engagement are more profitable and successful. A blog on employee engagement statistics found that companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable than those with low employee engagement.

A Gallup study found that engaged employees are less likely to be actively looking for or receptive to a new employment opportunity, which increases retention.

4. Compliance and Fair Treatment

Maintaining positive employee relations depends on the company abiding by labour rules and regulations. This pillar entails treating workers fairly and equitably and abiding by the law regarding pay, benefits, working conditions, and non-discrimination. It also includes advocating for diversity and inclusion, which helps create an equitable and welcoming workplace.

Effective employee relations shape behaviours not to be tolerated with clear policies, a confidential method for reporting it, and procedures for investigating and ending it. Legal issues can be avoided, and the integrity of the employee relations investigation process is upheld through proper compliance and enforcement.

Why is employee relations important to employees?

Employee relations are important for several reasons. This includes their direct impact on their general well-being, job satisfaction, and working environment.

Employee relations significantly impact employees' overall job happiness. According to the International Journal of Economics, Business and Management Research, employees are more likely to find contentment in their work, feel respected, and be encouraged to put out their best effort when they have great relationships with their co-workers, managers, and the company. This internal sense of fulfilment significantly impacts an employee's sense of general well-being and dedication to their work.

Good employee relations will influence the evolution of employee careers and prospects for advancement. Employees are more inclined to look for and take advantage of training and advancement opportunities when they feel encouraged by their managers and the company. Cultivating knowledge enhances the firm and benefits the individual workers.

Furthermore, a positive work atmosphere encourages a feeling of job security. Commitment and engagement are more likely to increase when employees feel secure. The general office mood and productivity may benefit from this promise of job stability.

According to the Management Study Guide, healthy relationships between co-workers provide better focus and concentration, fewer disagreements, and higher productivity because they make each other feel more at ease.

Lastly, good employee relations enable workers to develop a sense of ownership towards their work and grant them a say in the company's decision-making process.

5 strategies the employer uses to foster employee relations

  1. Effectively communicate: Good employee relations are built on honest and open communication. Employee expectations and company goals should be discussed frequently by employers. They should also encourage staff members to offer comments, ideas, and inquiries. Communication can be aided via regular team meetings, one-on-one conversations, and questionnaires.
  2. Establish clear policies and procedures: Employees are guaranteed to understand their rights, obligations, and the organization's expectations when policies and procedures are well established. When these rules are followed consistently, it promotes justice and trust.
  3. Provide opportunities for feedback: Establish ways for employees to offer feedback, such as suggestion boxes, ongoing surveys, or direct conversations with managers. Take action on this feedback to show employees their opinions are valued when possible.
  4. Promote a positive work culture: An inclusive, respectful, and collaborative work environment. Ensure that toxic behaviours are quickly addressed, and workers feel valued and safe at work.
  5. Lead by example: Executives and company leaders should set an example by upholding the same standards and guidelines that they demand of their team members. Their actions may have a big effect on the atmosphere at work.

Employee relations examples

AIHR published one of the most common outlines for examples of employee relations. Employee relations difficulties are less likely to occur when employers respect employees' rights and fulfil their expectations. Making employee relations a priority requires integrating it with operations and the employee life cycle.​

Brandon Murambinda is an Organisational Design and Development Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm.

Email: brandon@ipcconsultants.com or 

Visit our websites: https://www.thehumancapitalhub.com/and www.ipcconsultants.com

Brandon Murambinda
This article was written by Brandon a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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