Labor Relations Training For Supervisors: Put Knowledge Into Action

After over 40 years of developing leaders on strategies for effectively connecting with employees, we've found that many companies spend little - if any - time or resources on educating their teams with labor relations training designed for frontline supervisors and managers. Labor relations training helps leaders understand how their daily behaviors and words can significantly impact creating an environment where unions aren't necessary. 

Yet, ask your labor attorney, and he or she will tell you that a well-trained supervisor is the number one way to achieve this sort of environment. The frontline lower third and fourth-tier managers and supervisors engage with employees each workday and have the most influence in developing a positive organizational culture and positive employee relations. The specific job title doesn't matter. What matters is that you have some leaders communicating with employees in-person and through your enterprise communication system on a daily basis, and they need labor relations training as much as the C-suite and senior leaders.

Are Your Frontline Leaders Labor Relations Wise?

IRI Consultants created the LaborWise Leadership  program to provide your organization with labor relations training for the lower-level managers and supervisors (We'll call them supervisors from this point on for convenience's sake.) This labor relations eLearning was designed with the needs of your supervisors in mind, inspiring them to improve their skills and arming them with the knowledge they need to recognize and respond to organizing, even at its earliest stages. It includes actionable steps the supervisors can take to meet employee needs and create more engaged team members. Labor relations training is not just theory training. The eLearning platform has an intuitive interface and is interactive, so you have proof that your leader in development can apply the knowledge when presented with choices reflecting real-world scenarios via interactive quizzes.

The IRI Consultants team has been teaching labor relations and employee engagement principles for decades, and we cannot stress the importance of proactive, memorable, and ongoing training for supervisors. While your frontline supervisors are the key to retention and productivity, there are also several key strategies you should implement to create an environment where unions aren't needed.

Union Avoidance Training Materials

How Do You Create an Environment That Makes Unions Unnecessary?

One of the main reasons employees turn to a union is the feeling of being unable to express their concerns or frustrations to leadership. In some cases, even when employees can report their issues, they don't believe their supervisors are really listening or care. This feeling is usually due to needing more appropriate leader feedback. You probably have read many times that employees forming independent unions say they aren't heard, meaning they don't have opportunities to share concerns or they never get a response. Their supervisors shrug off their issues. It's a sure way to create disengaged employees because effective communication is crucial to developing positive relations.

To create a workplace environment that makes unions unnecessary, actively maintain your open-door policy. "Actively" means consistently putting the policy into practice. Some supervisors may claim there is an open-door policy, but are never in the office, usually fail to schedule face-to-face meetings with onsite workers or virtual meetings with remote employees, or never seem available for one reason or another. Leadership behaviors don't support words which is a critical mistake because workers quickly begin feeling alienated.

When management discovers employees are talking to unions, the frequent response is, "But we have an open-door policy!" But do your supervisors understand how to ask for and give feedback and follow up with actions? For example, leadership rounding is recommended as a strategy for gathering employee concerns and getting feedback on the spot. The supervisor or manager may only be able to resolve the issue after further investigation but makes a commitment to follow up and does so!" We already have a policy on scheduling" is not a good response. Maintain an open line of communication with employees at all levels, actively seek their feedback, and follow up on the feedback. It's a formula for strengthening employee engagement and trust.

Leadership training is clearly crucial to developing positive employee relations. We've already written about several helpful ways to prevent union organizing, and here are three more strategies to help you further.

Maintain Trust and Communication

Building trust through excellent communication should be a top priority and an essential element of your strategy. Supervisor training will help you foster an environment of mutual respect and collaboration built on trust between employees and leadership. Instead of focusing on the disadvantages of labor unions, concentrate on being pro-employee which is to say, concentrate on developing positive employee relations. Unions will not be necessary if you have trained supervisors to appropriately address employee concerns and continually work to improve employee engagement. The employee experience is a journey, meaning your supervisors must consistently build trust and not treat trust-building as a one-off meeting or event. You don't want employees saying, "She only worries about us trusting her when she thinks we are talking about joining a union."

Recognize Employees and Their Work

Another important way to protect your company from union organizing is incorporating employee recognition regularly. All of your employees' contributions to your overall company mission are important - and you should celebrate that. You want to recognize achievements, career milestones, behaviors you want to reinforce, team contributions, and ongoing work effort.

Recognition can take many forms, but it's a human need. The recognition process should be relevant to employees, taking into consideration the multigenerational characteristic of the workforce and, as leadership coach and advisor Andrew Bryant discusses in a project HR podcast, the changes in employee expectations about the workplace. The recognition and rewards company O.C. Tanner conducted a survey on recognition that delivered some very interesting insights. Today's employees have a different perspective on work and the role of their leaders. Some insights on recognition in the Global Culture Report include the following.

  • Recognition should be a blend of advanced technology and human interaction
  • 45% of employees felt their employer's recognition program had become stale, outdated, and routine
  • Employees who believed the recognition program is outdated or used as a disguise for determining compensation are 37% less likely to feel appreciated
  • Recognition should be timely, authentic, and directly related to workflows
  • Recognition initiatives should be part of a larger initiative to build a positive organizational culture and positive employee relations, creating excitement and energy

Recognition efforts depend on your leaders recognizing small and large efforts, consistently and regularly recognizing employees, making recognition individualized, and utilizing current technology to recognize onsite and remote employees in a meaningful way. Though people appreciate things like free coffee or free lunch on their birthdays or work anniversaries, it's not enough. Snacknation specializes in employee appreciation gifts and makes an important point. Employees want recognition for their ongoing effort that leads to their achievements and milestones. The gifts, milestone events, and even a recognition platform need to be additions and not replacements for regular manager or supervisor feedback.

Labor Relations Readiness Post Ad

Embedding recognition in the culture requires leadership training because your supervisors are instrumental in making it happen. O.C Tanner's survey found that organizations with integrated recognition are four times more likely to have highly engaged employees and three times more likely to report an extraordinary employee experience. Effective recognition plays a prominent role in labor relations. Empowered employees today recognize authentic recognition over superficial recognition based on the supervisor's understanding of the worker's effort. The employees in retail, healthcare, and food service industries that are forming independent unions today often say they are not appreciated for their effort to provide outstanding customer, client, or patient services. They also say that management doesn't understand the day-to-day issues hurting morale and engagement and doesn't take an active interest in their effort and progression.

Joseph B. Fuller, a co-chair of the Managing the Future of Worker report on low-wage workers, found that investing in frontline employees is critical for employees and workers to prosper. During an interview, he said that employees need a direct supervisor who says, "You're a hard worker. Let's talk about what your ambitions are. Here are the two or three things that, if you could do them, you might get a higher-paying job in the operation." This approach is the gold standard of supervisor recognition.

Recognition does include compensation practices too, but more than compensation is needed. Maintain competitive pay practices and stay within or above pay brackets among the competition in your market. Employees who feel they are treated well, recognized and appreciated, and compensated fairly are far less likely to turn to a union for solutions.

Address Employee Concerns and Provide Feedback

While we much time talking about communicating with employees, the truth is that two-way communication is a vital part of this process. Among other leadership skills like managing teams and leading change, LEAD Academy also helps leaders become coaching leaders because a coaching leadership style includes all the skills and values that build strong positive employee relations. The skills include trust, intentional communication, a belief in employee potential, and active listening that embraces feedback.

Provide team members with opportunities to express any grievances. Typically, employees seek union guidance when they do not feel they're being treated fairly, aren't being given an outlet to express concerns, or feel like their grievances are not being addressed. Demonstrate that you're willing to listen to these concerns, take the appropriate action, and communicate to all employees what's being done. Put the digital communications tools in place that allow your supervisors to take the lead on soliciting employee feedback from all employees.

Union Avoidance Training For Supervisors

Without labor relations training for supervisors, companies can quickly unionize. It's also likely that the union will challenge a "no" vote for unionizing, which could lead to a second election. Employers need to remain vigilant to avoid a rerun of possible union elections. A prime example of this is a situation that happened with Intertape Polymer - a duct and masking tape manufacturing facility in Columbia, South Carolina.

The following explanation is written by Matthew J. Kelley from Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. The United Steelworkers (USW) filed a representation petition. After losing the union election 97 to 142, the union looked to overturn the results by filing objections to the election in addition to unfair labor practice (ULP) charges. The charges claimed that Intertape Polymer violated Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The union alleged Intertape Polymer violated the National Labor Relations Act by, among other things, (1) interrogating an employee regarding his union sentiments; (2) confiscating union literature from the employees' break room; (3) engaging in surveillance of employees' union activities by leafleting at the plant gate while union supporters were simultaneously handing out leaflets there; (4) threatening employees that it would be futile to select the union as their collective bargaining representative; and (5) discharging a union supporter. A panel of the National Labor Relations Board (with Member Miscimarra dissenting) agreed with the first three of the union's assertions. As a result, the Board ordered a new election.

The employer conduct at issue, in the Intertape case, illustrates that the risks of straying from these policies outweigh any potential reward. Although the company was extremely successful in delivering its message, a few stray actions and unwise words that appeared to violate the NLRA resulted in the union getting another bite at the apple in a rerun election. In union campaigns, proper supervisory training is imperative, and discretion is often the better part of valor in any effective communication strategy. A well-trained supervisor will exercise the employer's free speech rights without running afoul of the restrictions of the National Labor Relations Act. 

A similar situation happened at the Amazon Bessemer distribution facility. The workers voted not to unionize, so the union filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges. The NLRB found Amazon interfered in the first election. A second union election was held, and this vote was also against unionizing.

Managers and supervisors also need to use what we call Wise Words during a union organizing campaign but using wise labor relations words needs to be standard leadership behavior at any time. The wrong words can trigger interest in unions at any time. Wise Words refer to supervisors recognizing employee words that point to union connections, knowing how to legally respond to tough questions, putting TIPS and FOE rules into practice, and knowing what employers can say without risking a ULP. Notice that the ULPs filed against Intertape Polymer included words like "interrogating" and "threatening." These are unwise words to use at any time.

Labor Relations Training for Supervisors in Your Organization Is Crucial

As you can see, labor relations training is vital to maintain high employee engagement and retention. But it is also a crucial element in avoiding unionization altogether. Our mission is to help you create an atmosphere where unions aren't necessary.

What does that look like?

  • Frontline leaders are informed and well-suited to maintain a direct connection with employees and take action.
  • Managers who receive labor relations training are more confident and able to address questions about union organizing.
  • Employees trust that leaders have their best interests in mind and trust the factual information their supervisor provides.

So, what steps can you take to build this kind of environment? How can you begin to implement labor relations training for supervisors? Do you develop it for your own company, or should you hire a professional? How much does it cost?

How Do I Develop Labor Relations Training for Supervisors?

First, you'll need to determine who will be creating the training. Will you have training videos made by a professional? Will you offer an eLearning program with lessons that build skills step-by-step? Will you have your staff participating in it or use professional actors?

Answering these questions will help you determine a budget. Hiring a producer, narrator, editor, or graphic artist can significantly increase costs. Professionally created training videos will cost you somewhere between $500 and $1,000 per finished minute.

Next, you'll need to decide what your training will cover. Remember, today's tone and approach are very different from the recent past. You'll want to include topics like creating a positive and supportive environment for employees, explaining what a union is and how it can change your workplace, how supervisors can recognize the signs of union organizing, how to boost employee morale, and so on.

Next, determine when you will implement this labor relations training for supervisors and how long it will take for your employees to complete it. Studies have shown that people learn best in short sessions or "micro-busts" of learning and retain more information for a longer time. The learning can usually be accessed on-demand and enables training when it best fits the leader's work schedule.

How will you deliver this information? Will you provide a set of online tests? Will it be a series of videos your employees will watch, with quizzes to check their understanding and knowledge? You may want to include an in-person training or seminar that your supervisors will attend together.

As you can see, a lot of planning and budgeting goes into developing labor relations training for supervisors and other leaders. You will need a consistent form of training so that all of your leaders are aligned with the same goals and values as the goals and values of the organization. Alignment among the leadership team is so important that we developed A Better Leader, an online leadership training program focused on skills like building trust, managing remote teams, goal setting, praise and recognition, and cultural sensitivity. The broad range of topics in the Leader Motivation library reflects the complexity of leading in today's work environment.

Union Avoidance Training For Managers

How Much Does It Cost to Develop Labor Relations Training Courses?

The short answer: it depends! From our experience in custom video production, the average price of a 15-18 minute custom video is $25,000–$32,500. We've found that a second language production produced at the same time is 60% of the cost of English, so $15,000 to $19,500. What is the value of your training and the message you want to deliver to your workplace? Consider the "shelf-life" of your custom video. It's reasonable to assume that you will be able to utilize your content (and that it will remain relevant) for around three to five years. 

Production elements can vary widely and can significantly affect the overall price of your training. Some of the more common "add-ons" found in custom video production that you may want to consider including the following: 

  • Adding talent or actors
  • A special talent or a voiceover
  • Additional shooting days in-studio or multiple location shooting
  • Higher-end 3D animation for an opening
  • Specialized shooting equipment such as a crane, dolly, or Steadicam
  • Foreign language version (translation, talent, graphics)
  • Custom music or licensing
  • Props
  • Location fees

Supervisor Training and Labor Relations

As you can see, custom video production and creating your own labor relations training courses have a reasonably wide "average" price range. It may or may not fit into your budget. The good news is that even if it doesn't, you still have options to train your leaders. Professionals created the LaborWise Leadership training platform for your leaders. It's practical training designed to develop leaders skilled in keeping an employee-first culture in the workplace that makes employees realize they don't need to turn to a union.

You don't have to worry about the who, what, when, or how of developing labor relations training because we've got it all covered. Prioritizing the development of labor-wise leaders skilled in developing positive employee relations is necessary today for attracting and retaining talent, building high-level employee engagement, and making unions unnecessary.

IRI Consultants would love to help you implement this training and get your supervisors up-to-date with all they need to know about labor relations in this pro-union environment. Once all of your supervisors have completed this labor relations course, they can foster an environment of mutual respect and collaboration where a union organizing campaign is less likely to occur because unions aren't necessary. 

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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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