Employee relations: An overview and best practices

March 24, 2021 - 19 min read

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What are employee relations?

9 examples of employee relations

8 crucial traits of an employee relations manager

5 employee relations best practices

What are common employee relations issues?


Having good employee relations (and a strategy for maintaining them) is the only way you're going to keep your employees for the long run.

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the employee relations management market is exploding — projected to be worth over $38 billion by 2027.

But what are "employee relations," really?

Is it just about organizing fun days out and ping pong tables on a Friday afternoon? 

Well, not quite. It never was that simple and it certainly isn't in the post-pandemic world.

Employee relations teams need to cover almost every part of their colleagues’ experiences in, and out of, the office. Addressing tensions around health and safety, taking a stand on important social issues, supporting career growth and learning opportunities — the list goes on.

In this article, we'll explore the definition, give you a quick primer and discuss best practices. You will also discover the most essential traits of an Employee Relations Manager, and challenges that you’ll need to tackle. 

What are employee relations?

In every company, keeping your team happy offers its share of unique challenges. 

And that's especially true in a world where a lot of teams are working remotely. Many employees struggle with social isolation, communication, and a sense of belonging. 

Employee relations is there to help with all of these. 

Employee relations, very simply, can include everything involved in maintaining your colleagues’ well-being. That's a broad purview.

Also called HR relations, associate relations, and even labor relations, the goal is to both reinforce your company's culture and make sure that teammates can be productive and get along with each other. 

The term also refers to making sure they have the necessary support to grow their careers as much as they can with you. 

Employee relations professionals aren't focused exclusively on your employee's happiness, though. They're also responsible for helping to improve performance.

Employee relations extends beyond the office. Teams must also monitor and react to well-being trends, especially with many colleagues still working from home and suffering from social isolation. As increasingly activist employees demand that their leaders and companies take a stand on big talking points in society, employee relations teams will play a leading role in this too. 

But why should we even bother?


Why are employee relations important? 

Good employee relations are vital to employee retention — keeping your team and staff around.

If people don’t feel appreciated or worry that what they do isn’t meaningful, they will look for change. 

A huge number of people in the US don’t look forward to going to work. According to the data, only 42% of employees say they got up raring to go to the office. 

The highest-performing companies are also the ones who invest in their employee relations. And it shows. 

84% of employees who were a part of businesses on Fortune 100's "Best Companies to Work" list were excited to spend the day with their team in the office:

Workplace happiness US

(Image Source)

Improving employee satisfaction is an expensive investment but one that will enhance your business' performance over the long run.

9 examples of employee relations

On the surface, employee relations is a simple concept. But going deeper, there's a lot you need to consider when putting together a strategy. 

Below are 9 examples of employee relations in action. 

  1. Making sure new team members fit into the company culture
    Hiring is no longer about competence alone. A good employee relationship includes making sure that all potential employees fit into the company well. It's up to the HR relations team to screen potential employees not only when they apply but also in interviews. 
  2. Onboarding support for new recruits

    Employee relations teams are responsible for the full onboarding process. Teams need to create welcome packs, set up meetings with key members, and get their equipment ready. 

  3. Providing ongoing support for employees

    Employee relations doesn't stop once a new team member joins the company. You also need to provide ongoing support in the form of learning programs, plus mentoring and coaching. 

  4. Analyzing performance

    The improvement of employees' performance is essential for helping companies to grow year-on-year. Employee relations teams are responsible for monitoring each colleague's performance and offering ways to help where possible. You can do this by using insights software. 

  5. Dealing with employee misconduct

    Even with the best employee relations strategy, HR teams will find themselves in challenging situations. Unfortunately, employee misconduct such as violating health safety regulations and harassment does happen. Teams, therefore, need a plan in place to deal with these problems. 

  6. Resolving ongoing conflicts

    Not everyone is going to get along at all times. Disgruntled employees may argue with their managers or even with each other. Employee relations teams will play an essential role in diffusing these situations and finding the best possible solution. 

  7. Exploring new ways to further-improve employee well-being

    Even in an office full of happy colleagues, there is always room for improvement. You might look for new ways to further-improve your employees' happiness by paying for online courses, promoting mental health days, and more. 

  8. Extra-curricular initiatives

    One of the best ways to improve your employees' well-being is by providing activities and events outside of the office. This could be something as simple as drinks on a Friday evening or even paid-for fitness and yoga classes. 

  9. Office health and safety procedures

    Employee relations professionals are responsible for putting together building safety procedures. They must also provide everyone with the correct training and manage everything efficiently if something happens.

8 crucial traits of an employee relations manager

Being a HR Manager requires a unique set of skills. You must be competent in both managing people and having a forward-thinking mindset. 

The most important skills for maximizing your employee engagement capabilities are below. 

  1. Emotional intelligence

    As the leader of a labor relations team, you need to have a high emotional intelligence level. You must know how to control your thoughts and feelings, but also read others.

     Empathy and understanding other points of view will enable you to solve colleagues' problems better. 

  2. Good communication skills

    Unsurprisingly, employee relations requires being a good communicator. You need to know how to engage others, create emails that people want to open, carry out interview questions, and more. 

  3. The ability to identify problems

    Being a valuable Employee Relations Manager requires proactivity. You must have the ability to identify problems that may arise and solve them before they become a serious issue. 

    You also need an understanding of where underlying office issues may be, and how to solve them. 

  4. A strategic mindset

    Employee engagement trends change. So does what employees want and do not want from their office experience. 

    As the Employee Relations Manager, you must have a strategic mindset and be able to identify changing trends and know how to implement improvements.

  5. Leadership

    Whenever something goes wrong with any employee, employee relations are usually the first called in to help. Therefore, you need to lead others in difficult times and be a source of inspiration to others. 

  6. Social responsibility

    Everyone should be socially responsible, but this is especially true for Employee Relations Managers. You should consider how your team's actions impact both the office and wider community, and also think about how you can support humanitarian issues. 

  7. An innovative mindset

    A good Employee Relations Manager is not afraid to try new things. They might overhear new ways to improve what they offer to employees, or introduce ideas they've seen happen elsewhere. 

  8. Resilience

    No profession is all sunshine and rainbows, even less so when managing a whole office of employees. You might find that others talk to you disrespectfully, you need to make difficult decisions, or deal with other employee-related challenges. Therefore, resilience is essential in employee relations.


Ready to take your leaders to the next level? Try a demo of BetterUp.

5 employee relations best practices

Don't worry — you don't need to build slides between floors like Google in Zürich to have a great employee relations strategy. 

Here are some practices that you can apply today. 

  1. Invest in your people beyond the recruitment phase

    No company has ever been successful by ignoring its customers after completing a sale. Similarly, no business can operate if it ignores its employees' needs after they've settled in. 

    One way to invest is with coaching courses, which can improve employee performance by 20% and business' revenue growth by 60% over five years. As you can see from employees and teams who’ve participated in our coaching below, you can also improve your teammates’ well-being in various areas.

    Employee Relations Coaching Results
    (Image Source)

    Instead of seeing yourself as a stepping stone, provide as much room for personal growth as you possibly can. 

  2. Let your employees know that you trust them

    Some employees, especially newer ones, may lack confidence and want to work more closely with management. And while you should provide this, it’s also important to trust in their abilities. Let them come to you and offer them help, but avoid micromanaging. 

  3. Have a well-defined company culture

    According to a survey by Glassdoor, 22% of US employees believe that culture matters most to them in their office. Having a culture which fosters inclusion and belonging will empower your colleagues and help them develop both professionally and personally. 

    US Workplace Satisfaction Metrics
    (Image Source)

    Being clear about what your company stands for and its values will make your employee engagement strategy much easier. 

  4. Open and honest communication

    It's essential that you are transparent not only with your own team members, but also the rest of the company. You should encourage open dialogue and seek to clarify points of confusion wherever possible. 

  5. Promote inclusivity

    Your employee relations strategy must find a way to include everyone. Their seniority level should not matter, nor should their background. 

    When you create an office where everyone feels equal to one another, you will also achieve a greater sense of harmony. Moreover, employees will feel more of a purpose.

What are common employee relations issues?

Most employee relations teams will have to deal with similar challenges. If left ignored, they will have a detrimental effect on your teammates’ experience in the office. This can lead to bitterness, resentment and further rifts.

4 common issues in employee relations are:

  1. Disengaged employees

    This is a big employee relations issue. Beyond stifling their own personal growth, a disengaged employee can become toxic. Their actions could affect the productivity and morale of others, and also harm their mental health. 

  2. Little opportunity for upward mobility

    If employees feel like they've put in the work to deserve a higher salary or promotion, they may find it disheartening when others achieve this. 

    Limited opportunities for upward mobility can also cause jealousy and resentment, while also providing little incentive for them to go above and beyond. 

  3. Conflict management

    Not everything will be rosy all the time. Personalities may clash, team members might not see eye-to-eye, and tempers could flare. It's important that all disagreements are settled fast and professionally. 

  4. Not having access to better information

    According to HR Acuity, 58% of HR representatives think that having access to better data would help them to serve their employees better. Not having the tools to improve your offerings can hold you back and cause leakage in talent.

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Employee relations is essential for every company’s success. To provide value to others in this field, knowing team members’ biggest struggles and how to tackle these is essential. 

Good employee relations is about more than organizing events and quirky office designs. Career growth opportunities, the right tools for learning and reminding everyone that they’re essential to the company are all equally as important.

Are you interested in finding out how BetterUp can improve your employees’ productivity and morale? Request a tailored demo

Published March 24, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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