Developing Your Positive Employee Relations Strategy

Your organization has decided that in order to support the company's culture, you need a "Positive Employee Relations Strategy." But what does that even mean, and how do you get started?

UnionProof developed the 5 Days to Your UnionProof Strategy because a step-by-step plan works. One of the challenges you must overcome in developing and implementing a positive employee relations strategy is not being overwhelmed by the complexity of managing in today's workplace. Staying union-free is about to get even more challenging as the Democrats push for union-friendly legislation like the PRO Act. In addition, employees remain anxious about their health and safety due to COVID. Meanwhile, unions ramp up their efforts to grow their membership through more efficient use of social media and other technologies, and younger millennials and Gen Z employees embrace micro-unions membership-only unions

Atul Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Done Right, is a strong proponent of using checklists to manage extreme complexity and ensure people are consistently applying their knowledge. He says that checklists empower people by identifying common goals and a plan of action. The checklists he refers to are not detailed steps but rather best practices for ensuring the right people communicate in an organization. The right people are those who have the knowledge needed to keep an organization successfully moving towards goals. They can find solutions to challenges, flexible, collaborative, and supportive of open communication.

The Art of Labor Relations CTA

Focus on Organizational Culture to Stay Union-Free

Staying union-free by developing a pro-employee set of goals and strategies is also not about ticking off boxes but rather about developing and maintaining an organizational culture of open communication, teamwork, and support to promote positive management-staff and employee-employee relations. Maintaining a direct connection with employees/team members is the key to staying union-free. reaching organizational goals, and of course developing an effective PER (positive employee relations) strategy.

Your company's needs are different from other companies' needs, but starting with a template of actionable steps to stay union-free is the best place to start. Relying on Gawande's idea of a checklist, you can develop a list of items to address that are specific to your company. The goal is to avoid third-party involvement in your business, in this case, the union, by developing strong pro-employee best practices. You want to prevent a union from organizing in the first place. 

PER strategy

Effective Communication Is Essential to a Positive Employee Relations Strategy

Notice the following items involve communication processes and behaviors because effective communication in the organization is an essential requirement for success in all directions – reaching enterprise goals, developing a connected and committed workforce, and developing solid employee-supervisor/manager relationships, and staying union-free

We divided the list into a set of actions that promote good communication and a set of actions that specifically address potential unionization. Both sets of actions are pro-employee and address maintaining a direct connection with employees/team members.

Strengthening Employee Engagement Through Communication 

  1. Develop an internal communication process that allows employees to anonymously express concerns or grievances and ensure prompt feedback. Create a workplace environment where employees feel safe to speak up about anything from innovative ideas to workplace issues, including conflicts with coworkers and supervisors.
  2. Train your managers and front-line supervisors on transparent communication – what it means, how to communicate honestly, and how to develop trust. Transparency should pervade all communication – in-person, online, through enterprise systems, in videos and podcasts, in print communication tools, via the website, and in any other venue.
  3. Give all employees access to the communication system, i.e., app, social media, website, employee forums, and other enterprise communication systems. Don't create a culture of "have and have-nots."
  4. Train your managers on how to share and express company values to develop a positive employee relations strategy, making employees partners and collaborators in fulfilling the company mission.
  5. Publicly recognize employee achievements and behaviors that support the desired corporate culture. Some companies use third-party vendor reward and recognition systems that enable managers to recognize employees and employees to recognize each other. People need to hear "thank you" and "job well done."
  6. Review all of your HR policies and procedures to ensure they are free of bias and followed by an assessment of actual results. For example, who is being recruited, are minorities given equal opportunities for career advancement, how many people of color and women are in leadership positions, are employees filing discrimination claims in particular departments, etc. 
  7. Establish a way to routinely assess employee engagement through various means like pulse surveys and survey instruments, but break down results by gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Unless all the workforce members are engaged and feel a sense of belonging, you are vulnerable to unionizing by employees with particular demographics. Be sure to follow up surveys with feedback. Don't keep your employees wondering if anyone in management is "listening."
  8. Develop managers and supervisors empathetic to employee stress and support them with HR policies like flexible work arrangements. Your employees need to know their work and personal lives are important to their employer. 
  9. Review the new hire onboarding program and process and make sure it conveys the organizational culture and the company philosophy on unions. Don't overwhelm your new employees with tedious paperwork and dull presentations. Give each new hire personal attention, introducing them to coworkers, and assigning a mentor. Create engaging orientation videos that quickly make a new hire feel welcomed and bring the person up to speed on everything from benefits to the importance of staying union-free. 
  10. Create company videos that reinforce the company culture.
  11. Include employees in the company's goal-setting process, their department or function, and their team.
positive employee relations PER strategy

Strengthening Employee Engagement When Unions Become a Reality

The last thing you want is the union coming between management and employees. Avoiding third-party involvement of a union isn't always possible, and in light of the current pro-union Biden administration, it's much more likely. Unfortunately, it only takes one disgruntled employee who is good at recruiting others to find your company facing a union campaign. The sooner you discover what is going on, the better. However, it's important to realize that a union campaign can be stopped through best practices. Even if it gets to a union vote, your influence is enormous in convincing employees a union is just not necessary. 

  1. Conduct an internal and external union vulnerability assessment, recognizing that union activity in your area and at other businesses could mean your company is next. The vulnerability assessment also identifies the trends and issues the local unions are targeting, giving you a heads up on engaging your employees. 

2. Develop and maintain online resources that keep leaders informed about union activity and appropriate responses within the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Recognize employee engagement applies to managers and supervisors, keeping them engaged through podcasts that share critical information they need to know about union activity, employee engagement, etc.

3. Develop and maintain an employee-facing dark website that can quickly go live in an organizing situation. Another option is to have a website focused on unions that is live all the time. 

4. Designate one or more people for certification in labor relations, ensuring they have union-proofing knowledge and can serve as inhouse information assets.

Rapid Response Preparation:

Prepare for a rapid response in the event union activity is detected to address employee grievances. It's important to be prepared to:

  1. post custom, off-the-shelf, and union specific videos about typical union behaviors and other facts (available through a vendor like UnionProof) of the specific union
  2. print handouts
  3. hang posters
  4. post a FAQ webpage that is preloaded with common questions and answers and identify the labor professional responsible for responding to employee questions
  5. customize the dark website and take it live
  6. make a dues calculator or net paycheck impact and strike loss calculator accessible for employees and be prepared to explain where union dues go
  7. Obtain opposition research that provides crucial information about the union

Make all information computer, tablet, and mobile-friendly as much as possible. The faster you respond, the more likely a campaign can be stopped in its tracks through employee engagement.

Developing a Positive Employee Relations Strategy is a Process

Developing a positive employee relations strategy is a process. It doesn't happen overnight, which is why it's so important to start now. Use the items on the list as starting points for reviewing existing systems and ensuring your leaders and employees have access to the information they need to make good decisions and are good at communicating. You will have an effective PER strategy before you know it!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

With over 25 years in the industry, and now as IRI's Director of Business Development, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

follow me on: