The importance of employee relations in a formal establishment

09 August 2019 | Columns

Happy Amadhila

Employee relations is a field used to be known as industrial relations. As a field of study it is the study of the laws, conventions and institutions that regulate the workplace. However, as it’s a practice, it was concerned with conflict management as well as wielding the different agendas of employers and employees. Presently, employee relations takes the role of identifying ways in which both the employer and employee can address workforce conflicts as well as benefit from their own policies and procedures. Overall, the concept serves four perspectives: those of the workers, employers, society and government.

As an ER specialist, one deals with workplace issues that range from employee complaints about working conditions to allegations of discriminatory employment practices. In environments where trade unions are involved, it is the duty of the employee relations specialist to handle labour management issues, collective bargaining agreements, policy interpretations and group grievances. Moreover, what is most important is to provide support and assist in bettering the morale of the staff members because the success of any business depends heavily on an engaged workforce.

An occupation in the practice of ER is neither for the fainthearted nor for emotional people. It is a field that requires a high level of integrity, good interpersonal skills, patience, as well as the ability to steer people's attitudes and beliefs in one direction when necessary. ER specialists have the responsibility to assist parties internally to find common ground even in situations where they agreed to disagree.

Employee relations is an important specialised organ of the business that deals with conflict handling and legal elements, as well as collective aspects of very different interests with the aim of suggesting common ground that both employer and employee can agree on. Furthermore, an ER department ensures that the company policies and agreements are followed fairly and consistently. Equally, it saves money and time that an organisation would have spent on a consultant

The ER department’s main task is to manage relationships between employers and employees to create an environment that will allow employees to be committed and loyal to the company. In the absence of such a department, organisations tend to experience meaningless conflicts and disputes as well as unnecessary work stoppages that hamper production and customer delivery negatively. In fact, poorly managed relationships spill over to personal relationships where employees do not feel safe nor trust the colleague sitting next to them.

The most rewarding thing about being in this department is that we are given a chance to learn new things. The field is constantly changing - from the introduction of new laws and the amendment of workplace legislation, and aligning those to employee expectations, which is thrilling and rewarding. ER is a department that has a strong understanding of an organisation’s priorities and challenges. It also has the ability to influence the future of the company based on the business decisions made.

Most of the time, this department deals with managing very adversarial relationships, and the goal is always to get to a win-win situation without the matter becoming personal or biased. Getting the one party to compromise on a matter over the other can thus be quite a challenge. Another challenge is when the ER practitioners are expected to compromise on clear existing rules and regulations.

The ER department is not to merely protect employees nor is it there to see that management gets the upper hand. An ER department task is to protect the company and its employees. Ensuring that the two parties and relevant stakeholders are constantly engaged in a positive manner and in a way that encourages trust amongst the role players. What makes it easier is that there are statutes and parameters within which the department operate and when abided to, there should be nothing to worry about.

Spotting and addressing a problem area drives me. It’s really gratifying to see employees go from being frustrated because they’re having a problem with their manager to feeling productive and appreciated.

Dealing with people is not frustrating; it is when we compromise our integrity that makes it difficult to deal with people. ER is not for the fainthearted, good interpersonal skills, patience and a lot of reading goes a long way in making handling people's issues easier.

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