9 Ways To Improve Employee Relations We Bet You Haven’t Thought Of

Imagine this: The CEO holds a quarterly two-day management training seminar and presents his message as a stand-up comic on an improv theater stage. Does it sound far-fetched? It probably does because it breaks the boundaries of what you likely consider professional business behavior. But in order to improve employee relations, this is exactly what Twitter CEO Dick Costolo does, relying on his experiences as an improv comedian at Chicago’s Second City.

Stanley Martin Homes CEO Steve Alloy personally conducts new employee orientation for each and every hire, improving employee relations from the very beginning.

Improving Employee Relations

CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook are eating lunch with employees, leaving the confines of their offices to engage employees. At FullContact, CEO Bart Lorang gives employees 15 days of paid annual vacation plus $7,500 to use as they like. The only requirement is that employees are not allowed to work — no emails, no phone calls, no texting fellow employees.

These surprising ways to improve employee relations practices are being put in place to enhance engagement and spark innovative thinking. Increasing employee engagement is a strategy to union proof a business. Why file an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board when the employee feels free to share concerns with senior management over a sandwich?

Which of these practices could your company adopt to begin to improve your employee relations and build your UnionProof culture?

1. Give Employees Access to Decision Makers

Follow Tim Cook’s lead or the lead of L’Oreal Group’s chairman and CEO, Jean-Paul Agon, by eating breakfast or lunch with employees in the cafeteria or break room. This small act goes a long way in convincing people that management truly cares about employees, does not view itself as superior, and encourages open communication.

2. Give Employees Multiple Channels for Training and Development

The days of calling a group of employees together who then struggle to stay awake while an HR professional drones on about company policies are gone. Exciting new training and development opportunities are presented as video, specialized company websites and e-learning.

Social media is a powerful tool for employee engagement, enabling employees across the organization to share knowledge, get quick feedback and get noticed by managers.

3. Gamify!

Whether used as part of daily employee life or as part of training within interactive eLearning, gamification uses rules of play and point scoring, to encourage continued and motivated “play” that helps improve employee relations. According to neuroscientists, gamification conditions the brain to seek every-increasing accomplishments, a bit like a Las Vegas gambler, through consistent and positive feedback.

PwC’s Multipoly is a business simulation game to improve recruitment and retention of employees. Employers are applying gamification to deliver personalized training and to encourage employees to achieve higher performance. When employees are engaged in the learning process, they feel a satisfaction that can’t be achieved with standard training.

4. Offer Benefits and Rewards With Meaning

Sure, you can give employees a 3 percent pay raise for good performance, but the extra money is not likely to engage or motivate. Why? It is an extrinsic reward that gives short-term satisfaction and then becomes a norm. Also, the employee likely believes it is well-deserved, long overdue and not enough money. How engaging is that?

More likely to improve employee relations are personalized benefits and rewards. For example, companies using the Achievers employee recognition system can earn locally-sourced rewards, like tickets to a Broadway play or a Visa card. To earn points, which can then be converted to rewards, employees need to get non-monetary recognition from other employees via the Achievers software program for doing great work or contributing quality ideas.

Equally important is communicating benefits in an interesting manner to ensure employees fully understand what is available.

5. Ask Employees What They Really Think

Anonymous annual employee surveys are important. The real issue in improving employee relations is: do your employees believe they can safely provide honest feedback to management without repercussions. (Otherwise, why would you feel the need to keep the survey anonymous?)

If you believe the only way to get honest employee feedback is through anonymity, you may have a much larger issue concerning employee engagement that needs to be addressed in order to improve employee relations.

Remember, too, that setting a precedent for annual employee surveys gives you the ability to continue to offer those surveys, even if union organizing activity does begin. At that point, employees are accustomed to providing open and honest feedback, and surveying employees during union organizing efforts doesn’t feel forced or insincere.

Surveys can provide invaluable information, insights and creative ideas, but only if employees feel free to share their real feelings and thoughts, and management is able to follow up with productive conversations (maybe over a sandwich in the employee cafeteria).

6. Offer a Path for Resolving HR Issues

Assume one of your employees strongly disagrees with the way their supervisor approves requests for time off, claiming discrimination. Does he or she feel free to discuss the issue with that supervisor, knowing there is a clear path for pursuing dispute resolution all the way to the CEO’s office? Or would that frustrated employee call a union representative to get another opinion on resolving the issues?

It is important to have policies and procedures for problem resolution. Some companies use alternative dispute resolution (ADR), a process for resolving disputes to allow an employee take the issue to the very top for resolution.

7. Train All Managers and Supervisors at the Corporate Level in Positive Employee Relations

Creating a culture of positive employee relations requires all levels of management to be on board. Investing in training on labor relations and leadership at the corporate level is one step. An equally important step is training supervisors in labor relations.

Think of Aristotle’s saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” A cohesive, engaged workforce is more productive, but cohesiveness is only achieved when all managers and supervisors employ good communication skills and best engagement practices.

8. Give Employees Opportunities for Work-Life Balance

Offering work-life balance might just mean letting employees work remotely one day a week. For other companies, it might mean allowing a multi-generational workforce to select benefits that have the most meaning. For example, employees over 40 or parents of young children may value a flexible work schedule over an employer-paid disability policy.

There are other ways you can inspire employees to give their all. For example, encourage strategies for how to improve productivity both professionally and personally. This can also help lead to a better work-life balance, better employee engagement and a more positive workplace. What kind of balance best meets the needs of your unique workforce?

RELATED: How To Stay Union-Free By Supporting Work-Life Balance

9. Try Something Daring

Daring is a word that has different meanings in different companies. Think outside the box. Adobe developed an “innovation in the box” kit, which is now offered as a product called Kickbox. The innovation box includes a prepaid credit card with $1,000 for idea validation, six levels of play, scorecards and frameworks, and a gift card! What can you do to inspire innovation and engagement?

What would be daring in your company? You might be surprised by the answer. Think in terms of positive employee relations as a way to union proof the company and “daring” may not seem so daring after all!

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is IRI's Director of Digital Solutions and the founder of UnionProof & A Better Leader. As the creator of Union Proof Certification, Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.

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