Focus on the Positive to Overcome Union Negativity

When you consider your company’s vulnerability to unionization, is there a focus on the negative or positive factors? It would seem weakness is all about the negative, but in reality, it’s really about the level of employee engagement first. A positive focus can help overcome union negativity. After all, engaged employees seldom have an interest in unions. Achieving high employee engagement is a positive quality every organization strives for, including those that want to stay union-free. It’s why UnionProof spends so much time working with clients on leadership training, employee communication, and conveying the company’s philosophy on unions. By focusing on the positive, you can achieve stronger employee engagement and all the benefits that bring, from remaining union-free to increasing productivity to improving customer service to becoming an employer of choice. 

Perspective: Talk Facts and Then Listen

Telling the truth about unions by sticking to the facts does not mean adopting a negative attitude. Many employers worry that striving to remain union-free by talking transparently about unions will only cause more workplace problems. Usually, they envision managers constantly talking only about negative topics like strikes, loss of management control over promotions, businesses ruined by union demands, and lengthy grievance procedures, to name a few. That’s not a good way to connect with employees because you’re not hearing or understanding employee opinions about the organizational culture or unions if you’re doing all the talking and very little listening. 

However, staying union-free requires a balance. You present the facts and explain how unions will impact the business. Keeping it professional and factual is important. It’s difficult to keep personal opinions out of the mix, but engaging employees requires effective unrestricted communication between employees and managers. Supervisors trashing unions regularly in their departments are likely to get the interest of employees. It’s human nature to think, “There must be something good about unions or management wouldn’t be so negative about them all the time.” They go home and call their union friends at other companies to ask questions and start thinking about what a union can do for them. 

positive employee relations

Perspective: Empowering Employees

Unions thrive on conflict, which is why it’s so important to create a positive work environment to maximize employee engagement. The union-free website becomes a tool for communicating accurate information about unions, contributing to the positive workplace by demonstrating management is protecting the interests of employees and is willing to have a dialogue with the workforce rather than waiting for the conflict. The union-free website can address the company’s positive values, an open-door policy for resolving difficulties, positive reinforcement of company benefits and Human Resources policies, and even concern for the impact of unions on family members. 

Deloitte Insights identified three shifts in the business world that create opportunities for companies to create a positive work environment. 

Shifts for a Positive Work Environment

  1. Change to the psychological contract – The psychological contract refers to the fundamental relationship between employees and employers. In the past, employees were content to plod away for years at a business that offered stability and long-term success. Today, employees want an engaging experience that includes a fun and positive organizational culture.
  2. Demographic shifts – UnionProof and A Better Leader has addressed the changing demographics of the workforce. Millennials are now the largest cohort in the workplace, and 64% believe they will be financially worse off than their parents, and 69% believe they will be less happy. The opportunity is for the business to foster engagement and social opportunities.
  3. Work is shifting due to technology – Collaboration across organizational boundaries is critical as employees outside IT utilize technologies to solve problems. Yet, the research found that 73 percent of employees say their leaders rarely work together on projects or initiatives. The opportunity is to create a positive collaborative work environment.

What does this have to do with staying union-free? A lot! Employees must believe they work for an employer who empowers them to take control of their work and careers, cares about their struggles, is interested in their financial condition, and provides benefits that address mental and physical health, and all within a context of a positive culture

Perspective: Crafting a Positive Work Environment through Dialogue

Your managers must learn to craft a positive work environment. Any union-free tools used are intended to promote a positive workplace and employee engagement by empowering employees with the facts. Employee engagement continues to be a struggle for employers. Southern New Hampshire University mentions a Dale Carnegie Training and MSW survey that found only:

  • 29% of employees are fully engaged
  • 45% of employees are partially engaged 
  • 26% of employees are actively disengaged
  • 70% of the employees who had little confidence in senior leadership were engaged

These numbers are commonly the results of workplace surveys. This is despite employers knowing that one of the key drivers of engagement is a positive work environment, and another is employee trust in leadership

Staying union-free is not a one-off event. It requires ongoing dialogue about unions, the advantages of working for the business, employee-manager relationships, work challenges, and solutions and employee needs. The union-free website and other tools are starting and not ending points. It lays the foundation of shared values and helps employers hire positive people by informing them upfront about the company’s union philosophy. Managers are responsible for ensuring all employees feel free to ask questions, express opinions, and speak up on ideas for problem-solving. 

Adhering to the NLRB concerning conversations about unions is important in order to have a positive dialogue. For example, managers may issue a policy that says employees cannot discuss non-work issues during work hours/in the workplace. They cannot single out conversations about unions for discipline. That creates a negative environment. Employers cannot make special rules about union communications. They cannot prohibit employees from talking about unions in work areas during non-work hours. You can issue negative policies, but that contributes to a negative culture unless the policies are balanced with positive dialogue.

Perspective: Positive Reasons for Staying Union-Free

You cannot talk about a positive culture unless you create one. Your union-free website needs the right content and shouldn’t be treated as an opportunity to trash unions. The real purpose is to explain the positive reasons for remaining union-free, the rights that employees have to make their own for-or-against union decisions, and the benefits employees already have. Add a Frequently-Asked-Questions webpage, and you have now empowered employees at the same time. Within the context of all the positive factors, the employer can talk about the facts of unions as a union avoidance strategy.

Truly, it is all about perspective. UnionProof recommends having a live union-free website with the FAQ area available at all times. Should a union organizing campaign start, it can be customized with videos and other information that show how a specific union operates. Of course, the goal is never to reach the point of an NLRB petition, and creating a positive culture and strong employee engagement is the best path. The union-free website can guide the discussions by letting you know what is on your employees’ minds. Don’t think that talking about unions has to be a negative event. It’s an opportunity to start a conversation about all the positive aspects of your business and have a positive result – remaining union-free. 

Perspective: Take the Leap into Transparent Communication

Do you need assistance leaping into transparent discussions between employees and management concerning unions? UnionProof has the expertise on union strategies, A Better Leader offers the necessary management training, and Projections, Inc. delivers award-winning custom video, web, and eLearning solutions. It’s everything you need to create a positive culture in which the word “unions” is not forbidden. So, let’s talk!

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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.

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