Employee relations examples and strategies for handling them

Building strong employee relations is an ongoing process for HR professionals and business leaders. Employee relations encompasses all of the operational activities and strategies that you use to build that employer-employee relationship to create a positive and productive work environment.

So many of your basic day-to-day management opportunities provide an opportunity to build positive employee relations by deepening the level of trust and respect between employees and the company. We’ve listed out several HR functions and tasks that the employee relations team (or the human resources department) can use to build employee relations. Explore these employee relations examples to find out how to strengthen your workplace culture and provide a better employee experience by leveraging employee relations.

What is employee relations?

Before we dive into examples, let’s look at what exactly employee relations means. Employer relations is the practice of fostering a positive relationship between employees and the employer. Good employee relations practices ensure that all team members understand what is expected of them, feel supported in their roles, and have a trusting relationship with their manager that allows them to comfortably bring up concerns.

This employee relationship management also extends to peer relationships throughout the workplace. Creating a positive company culture and providing the right environment for positive co-worker relationships to develop can help organizations build more collaborative, productive teams.

Examples of common employee relations functions

Explore common examples of employee relations functions and opportunities. Looking at standard HR tasks through an employee relations lens can help organizations strengthen workplace relationships and improve employee satisfaction.

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Building a strong company culture

Every company has its own organizational culture, but not every business puts effort into shaping that culture to create strong employee relations. Your company culture encompasses your values and how people communicate within the organization. Being intentional about creating a company culture that emphasizes things like employee well-being, work-life balance, and open communication can help employees feel more valued by the organization, thus strengthening employee relations.

Providing a strong employee onboarding

From an employee relations perspective, the onboarding stage is about starting the employee-employer relationship out on the right foot. Creating a strong first impression will help that relationship grow and flourish throughout the employee lifecycle.

Creating a more hands-on onboarding process that helps the new employees build relationships within the organization can be preferable when compared to more solitary, computer-based orientation processes. Of course, a mix of both works fine as well. Try to introduce new hires to internal leaders and their team members throughout the onboarding process so that they feel welcome and can begin forming positive work relationships. Consider implementing things like welcome lunches, regular check-ins with their direct manager and the HR department throughout the first 90 days, and new hire buddy or mentorship programs to deepen employee relations from the beginning.

Prioritizing workplace safety

Occupational health and safety is an area of management that may not initially ring out as an employee relations example, but keeping your workers safe is one of the most important things you can do to build trust and mutual respect. The compliance side of workplace safety, such as working to meet OSHA regulations, is not always overly employee-facing, but employee safety training is a great opportunity to strengthen employee relations.

Conducting safety training and having a safety committee in place with regular meetings are two ways to strengthen employee relations through workplace safety. Safety committees provide an opportunity for employees to get involved and have a voice when it comes to working conditions and improving safety. Meanwhile, training is an opportunity to emphasize concern for employee well-being and to reduce the risk of incidents like accidents or injuries that could negatively impact employees and the business. When creating company policies or planning training meetings related to safety, try to emphasize your concern for employees’ health while discussing accident prevention methods. Sometimes safety protocols are presented as more of a compliance tool, but the regard for employee well-being should also be made clear.

Overseeing conflict resolution

Even within tight-knit, collaborative teams, conflict will occasionally arise between co-workers. Employee relations professionals play a key role in addressing and resolving these workplace conflicts in a healthy, respectful manner. Often people managers or human resources staff will act as mediators between feuding co-workers to help both sides calmly communicate their feelings and work towards a solution.

Investigating complaints of harassment or misconduct

Not all employee relations examples will involve positive interactions and relationship-building between an employer and employee. Employee relations can also involve conducting investigations and taking necessary disciplinary action.

Employers need to take complaints related to harassment seriously and thoroughly investigate any accusations. This maintains a safe, healthy work environment for all employees. When a harassment complaint is received, human resources or management should interview witnesses, retrieve any available evidence (such as electronic communications), and meet with the complainant and the accused to get to the bottom of the situation.

Addressing employee absenteeism

Employee relations can be part of attendance management. When a manager notices an increase in absenteeism among a member of their team, or their team over all, it’s time to leverage that positive relationship that they’ve built up with their employees and talk to them about the issue. If you’ve been working to build up good employee relations over time, employees will typically be more comfortable communicating the reasons behind their increase in absenteeism or tardiness. Then, as a manager, you can leverage employee relations practices to collaborate on a solution or strategies that will help the employee improve their attendance.

Having discussions around employee performance

Performance management is an often-underutilized opportunity to build employee relations. Performance discussions offer an opportunity for managers to check in with their direct reports, offer recognition of their efforts, and work together with the employee on any improvement or growth goals.

When performance management is limited to one annual performance appraisal and disciplinary action for underperformance, employers miss an opportunity to develop the relationship between managers and employees. Instead, it’s recommended to have frequent, ongoing check-ins throughout the year in between performance reviews. These can be informal conversations to check in on the employees’ needs and discuss how they are doing with their performance goals or metrics.

Creating employee recognition programs

Recognition is an excellent employee relations tool, and organizations can take it a step further by creating more formalized employee recognition programs. Employee recognition programs may offer an incentive to top performers. They may also offer a way for peers to recognize each other throughout the workplace to boost employee morale and strengthen co-worker and team relationships throughout the company.

Soliciting employee feedback

Soliciting and acting on employee feedback is a great example of building better employee relations. Soliciting feedback through an employee engagement survey or other channels can help you uncover employee relations issues that you may otherwise be unaware of.

Just make sure that your employees are aware that you’re acting on this feedback, as collecting responses and not visibly acting on them can actually harm employee relations. Employees will feel frustrated and undervalued if they provide feedback upon request and then don’t see changes or receive any communication about what leadership is planning to do in response to the feedback.

Building and updating company policies

Your company’s policies should communicate expectations to employees in a clear, concise manner. Having clear expectations on both sides can help strengthen employee relations and prevent misunderstandings. Be sure to put all of your policies in writing and to review and update them at least once a year.

Part of maintaining good employee relations is communicating and enforcing established policies to maintain an orderly workplace. Therefore, it’s also important for managers to be well-versed in the company policies so that they can help employees understand and follow them. Every manager should be able to explain them and answer questions that employees have, or know where to direct employees when more in-depth clarification is required. It’s also most beneficial for employee relations that managers throughout the organization are interpreting and applying policies in a fair, consistent manner with all team members.

Tips for creating positive employee relations

In all of the above employee relations examples, the right approach from management can take an everyday HR or leadership interaction and turn it into an opportunity to build better employee relations. Here are some employee relations strategies to incorporate into every employee relations activity.

Don’t just talk, listen

As in any relationship, the employer-employee relationship requires strong two-way communication. For most people leaders, this means setting aside time for both individual and group discussions with direct reports where they actively listen to employee feedback, questions, and concerns.

For more executive-level leaders, it often won’t be possible to sit and listen to every single person within the organization. But companies should still look for opportunities to build two-way communication into their leadership employee relations strategy. This may include leaving time for a few questions at the end of meetings when executive leadership makes announcements or addresses the larger employee population. It may also involve the human resources team working with senior leadership to communicate the fact that employee feedback or survey responses are being heard and that action is being taken to address specific concerns.

Address workplace issues promptly

Make it your employee relations policy to address concerns, conflicts, or misconduct promptly before the issue grows larger than it needs to be. Things like attendance issues or co-worker disputes tend to be easier to resolve if management intervenes early on and works with employees to solve the problem. When issues are ignored, however, they can grow and negatively impact entire teams or the whole workplace.

Provide opportunities for team building

Provide frequent opportunities for employees to bond with their peers and leaders. For larger companies or well-funded start-ups, this may involve something like a company retreat. For small businesses on a budget, a volunteer day can be a budget-friendly way to bond while also giving back to the community. Remote employees in particular tend to have a harder time building relationships with peers or getting to know leadership more personally, so organizing virtual happy hours or virtual fireside chats with leaders can help.

Offer career development opportunities

A lack of clear growth opportunities is a common contributor to employee turnover. Companies that work closely with employees to understand their professional development goals and identify potential internal growth opportunities can improve employee retention rates and build better relationships with their employees.

Managers should conduct regular performance and development check-ins with employees throughout the year to assess the employee’s career goals and the progress made towards previously set goals. It is also helpful to offer ample training opportunities to employees who would like to learn new skills or prepare for advancement opportunities.

Use employee surveys to monitor job satisfaction

Regularly checking the pulse on your workforce through employee surveys is a great way to identify opportunities to strengthen employee relations within your organization. Employee surveys can also be targeted to measure the effectiveness of specific employee relations examples or functions, such as conducting onboarding surveys when new employees finish their first 90 days.