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What is Employee Relations?

Employee relations refers to the overall relationship between an organization and its employees. This includes factors like company culture, employee engagement, lines of communication between staff and leadership, and workplace policies.

Why is Employee Relations Important?

Employee relations are crucial for social enterprises for several reasons:

  • Alignment with Mission: Social enterprises have an explicit social mission beyond profit. This mission depends on engaged staff embracing organizational values. Unhealthy relations undermine the ability to advance the mission.
  • Culture of Inclusion: Social enterprises hire employees with varying backgrounds and experiences. Fostering inclusion and open communication ensures all employees feel valued.
  • Guidance Over Governance: Social enterprises hire individuals facing barriers to employment. Clear guidance through training and mentorship is more effective than strict governance.
  • Focus on Development: A major goal of many social enterprises is equipping employees with skills. Healthy relations built on trust facilitate ongoing development.
  • Benefits of a Positive Employee Relations Experience: A positive employee relations experience can lead to increased employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention. It can also enhance the organization’s reputation, attract top talent, and improve overall business outcomes.

Why is this Topic Different for Employment Social Enterprises?

Employment social enterprises (ESEs) have a unique relationship with their employees compared to traditional for-profit companies. ESEs often hire individuals who face significant barriers to employment. Effective employee relations practices can help ESEs create a workplace culture that is supportive, inclusive, and values-driven. By taking the unique backgrounds and needs of their employees into account, ESEs can ensure that all employees feel valued and can contribute to the organization’s mission and success.

Best Practices

  • Define the employee relationship in terms of goals, values, and intentions
    • Establish a shared vision for the organization and communicate how each employee contributes to that vision.
    • Establish clear expectations for employee behavior and performance based on organizational values and intentions.
    • Encourage employees to align their personal goals with the organization’s goals to create a sense of shared purpose.
  • Encourage Open Communication
    • Maintain open-communication policies that allow employees to voice concerns. Respond promptly and compassionately.
    • Schedule regular one-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports to check in.
    • Send out anonymous employee satisfaction surveys periodically. Review feedback and implement suggestions.
    • Develop a feedback system to engage employee feedback.
  • Establish an Escalation/Investigation Process
    • Start with open communication: If an employee has a concern or issue, encourage them to bring it up with their manager or supervisor, or any person in leadership or management they feel most comfortable with. Schedule dedicated time to have an open and honest conversation to gauge the employee’s feelings and ensure they feel safe in the work environment.
      • Here are some questions that could be asked in an employee relations issue meeting:
        • What happened? Can you describe the situation and what led up to it?
        • When did this occur? Was it a one-time incident or an ongoing issue?
        • Who was involved? Were there any witnesses to the situation?
        • Is there any historical context that could help us understand the situation better?
        • What outcomes would you like to see as a result of this meeting? How can we work towards a resolution that is satisfactory to you?
        • Have you raised this concern with anyone else in the organization? If so, what was the response?
        • Are there any policies or procedures that you feel were violated in this situation?
        • Is there anything else you would like to share or discuss about this situation?
    • Involve a neutral third party: If the issue cannot be resolved through a conversation, the employee and their manager can involve a neutral third party to escalate the issue like a higher-level manager, executive, or colleague not involved in the issue.
    • Communicate decisions and rationale: It’s important to communicate any decisions made, including the rationale, to the employee and any involved parties to ensure transparency.
    • Establish an appeals process: If the employee does not accept the resolution, the organization can establish an appeals process. This process should outline what steps the employee can take if they disagree with the decision made by the higher-level manager or executive. Leaders should be prepared to commit to its initial decision or work in partnership with the employee to develop alternative outcomes.
    • Seek external resources: If the issue still cannot be resolved internally, the organization can seek external resources, such as a mediator or attorney, to help resolve the issue.
  • Invest in People Management Training
    • Educate managers on constructive feedback delivery, workplace conflict resolution, and managing diverse teams.
    • Bring in experts to work with leadership on building trust, psychological safety, and an inclusive environment.
    • Role play difficult workplace scenarios to prepare managers for challenges.
  • Set Relationship-Focused Organizational Values
    • Emphasize values of integrity, compassion, collaboration, growth mindset, and community benefit.
    • Celebrate employees who exemplify values like mentorship, dedication to mission, or overcoming obstacles.
    • Make values central in training, materials, and leadership messaging.

Foundational Concepts

Effective employee relations are founded on several key concepts, including:

  • Mediation: Mediation can be a helpful tool in resolving conflicts between employees or between employees and management. It involves a neutral third party who helps facilitate a conversation and find a mutually agreeable solution.
  • Conflict management: Conflict is a natural part of any workplace, but effective conflict management can help prevent conflicts from escalating and disrupting employee relations. This includes developing policies and practices for addressing conflicts and providing training for employees and managers.
  • Belonging: Employees feel a sense of connection and community within the workplace, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity.
  • Psychological safety: Employees feel comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas without fear of negative consequences, which can lead to increased creativity and innovation.

    Types of conflict
  • Interpersonal conflict: This type of conflict arises between individuals due to differences in personality, communication styles, or personal values. This can be addressed by encouraging open communication, active listening, and finding common ground.
  • Intragroup conflict: This type of conflict occurs within a group or team due to differences in goals, ideas, or approaches. This can be addressed by setting clear goals and expectations, encouraging collaboration and compromise, and providing support for conflict resolution.
  • Intergroup conflict: This type of conflict arises between different groups or departments within an organization due to differences in goals, priorities, or resources. This can be addressed by promoting cross-functional collaboration, encouraging dialogue and understanding, and setting common goals.

    Approaches to addressing conflict
  • Collaboration: This approach involves working together to find a mutually agreeable solution. This requires open communication, active listening, and a willingness to compromise.
  • Compromise: This approach involves each party giving up something in order to reach a resolution. This requires a willingness to find common ground and make concessions.
  • Competitive: This approach involves one party winning and the other party losing. This is not always the best approach, as it can lead to resentment and further conflict.
  • Accommodating: This approach involves one party giving in to the other party’s demands. This is not always the best approach, as it can lead to one party feeling taken advantage of.
  • Avoiding: This approach involves ignoring or postponing the conflict. This is not always the best approach, as it can lead to the conflict escalating and becoming more difficult to resolve.

Concepts in Action

Here are some examples of employee relations concepts in action:

Scenario 1

An employee, Employee A reports that a coworker, Employee B, has been making inappropriate and unwanted comments and gestures towards them at work.

The organization takes this report seriously and appoints an impartial investigator to handle the investigation. The investigator, who could be a human resources representative, a legal professional, or an external investigator, interviews Employee A, Employee B, and any other relevant witnesses to gather information about the situation. The organization provides regular updates to Employee A on the status of the investigation and implements short-term interventions so that they feel safe and supported throughout the process.


After the investigation is complete, the organization takes appropriate action to address the issue. This may include employment action against Employee B, such as a warning or termination, and implementing measures to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, such as additional training on workplace harassment and a review of the organization’s policies and procedures. The organization also follows up with Employee A to ensure that they feel safe and comfortable returning to work, and provides any necessary support or accommodations.

Scenario 2

An employee, Employee A, has been struggling with a personal issue that is affecting their performance at work.

They confide in their supervisor, who works with HR to provide Employee A with the support they need to address the issue, such as counseling or a flexible work schedule. With the support of the organization, Employee A is able to overcome the issue and return to full productivity, feeling valued and supported throughout the process.

Success Metrics

To measure the effectiveness of employee relations practices, consider the following success metrics:

  • Employee satisfaction with the workplace culture and policies, measured through anonymous surveys or focus groups.
  • Employee retention rates, measured by the percentage of employees who remain with the organization over a set period of time.
  • Employee engagement rates, measured by the level of employee participation in company events, volunteering, and other activities.
  • Number and severity of employee relations issues, measured by the number of complaints, grievances, or conflicts that arise in the workplace.

About S P A C E

S P A C E is a consulting firm that transforms the employee experience by creating a safe and positive work environment for all, particularly those who are most vulnerable to workplace adversity. They offer a range of services, including human-centered HR strategy and advisory, organizational development, and personal and professional development coaching and support.