What Is Employee Relations?

Employee relations refers to an organization’s efforts to sustain positive, constructive relationships with its employees.

Written by Megan McNamara
Published on Jan. 17, 2023
What Is Employee Relations?
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Employee relations is the professional function responsible for developing a positive relationship between an employer and its employees. Building community and a positive sense of place within an organization is a key function of employee relations. These initiatives are typically housed within a company’s human resources department, and include issues such as working conditions, compensation and benefits, workplace and employee safety, incentives, reward and recognition programs, work-life balance, conflict resolution and boosting employee morale.

Examples of Employee Relations Responsibilities

  • Improve working conditions 
  • Clarify company policies 
  • Oversee health and safety practices
  • Develop compensation and benefits policies
  • Handle wage concerns (like pay compression)
  • Communicate with employee unions
  • Manage reward and recognition programs
  • Develop work-life balance strategies, policies and programs for employees
  • Manage conflict resolution between employees or between employees and their managers
  • Address sexual harassment and workplace bullying
  • Conduct workplace investigations
  • Provide oversight of medical leave

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Why Is Employee Relations Important?

At its heart employee relations is about positive employee experiences and, ultimately, employee retention. Employers want to keep employees happy in order to increase retention and reduce turnover, which is expensive and time-consuming for peers, hiring managers and leadership. A strong employee relations team or strategy helps employees feel valued, and keeps them engaged. As a result, they’ll be more likely to stay with the company.

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What Does Employee Relations Do?

Employee relations leaders often function as the go-between for managers and employees; they seek to boost employee retention, contentment and productivity. One of the ways to do this is through recognition programs. Employees want to know that their contributions are valued; this helps them feel more connected to — and invested in — their employer.

Employee relations managers may implement formal programs to recognize employees meeting long-term goals, celebrate workplace anniversaries and birthdays, and also encourage managers to celebrate employees’ informal successes such as securing a new client or successfully launching an initiative.

Larger organizations may have an entire employee relations division, while for some smaller companies the term simply refers to policies that are created to support employee interests. Finding an organization with positive employee relations and a stellar workplace culture is equally as important as salary and benefits for many workers. 

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How to Craft an Employee Relations Strategy 

A solid employee relations strategy will increase morale and engagement. It will also offer frequent opportunities for employees to provide feedback about employer initiatives. By continually seeking feedback from employees and involving them in company decisions, you’re telling your employees you trust them and their expertise. Those at high-trust companies experience 74 percent less stress, 50 percent higher productivity and 40 percent less burnout.

It’s important to customize your employee relations strategy to fit your company’s unique needs. This may take some trial and error, and continual monitoring to determine whether specific initiatives are working but tracking your initiatives can allow you to proactively address and respond to employee needs.

For example, implementing a company-wide employee policy on conflict resolution can help you take a proactive, uniform approach to resolving issues. You have everything in writing and can simply point to the standard procedure for addressing employee conflict, thereby alleviating any accusations of bias

Here are a few ideas to add to your employee relations strategy:

  • Encourage Cross-Team Collaboration: When the company is developing special projects,  build teams that include a mixture of employees from several departments in order to foster collaboration and a sense of shared purpose across the organization.
  • Offer Mentorship Opportunities:  Mentoring promotes leadership development and a culture of learning within an organization, and may even help with retention. In a recent survey of millennials by Deloitte, employees who said they plan to stay with their employer for more than five years were twice as likely to have a mentor.
  • Celebrate Birthdays and Work Anniversaries: Recognizing employee birthdays and workplace anniversaries makes employees feel valued, which strengthens their connection and commitment to their employer.
  • Advocate a Healthy Work-Life Balance:  Erratic hours and workloads will lead to employee dissatisfaction and feeling undervalued by their employer.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate:  Create organizational goals and regularly communicate any updates. Employees need to understand what they’re working toward and how it aligns with the company’s broader mission in order to feel fully engaged. 
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