Foster Positive Employee Relations Using Communication Best Practices

Organizations are always striving to maintain positive employee relations.  This is especially true during such trying times as the current economic downturn— at such times, employers feel especially strong pressure to retain top talent in order to meet and exceed business demands.  However, organizations often face dwindling resources at such critical periods, meaning that they must be creative in terms of maintaining these positive relations.  One cheap and easy way in which positive relations can be preserved is through smart communication practices.

Communication, especially between employees and leadership, can have a major impact on employee relations.  When effective communication practices are in places, employees generally feel more connected and committed to the organization.  However, when communication breaks down, employee relation problems are more likely to occur.  Here are a few tips for improving or establishing organizational communication practices to preserve positive employee relations.

1. Conduct a communications audit.  A preventative measure that organizations can take is to conduct a communications audit.  A communications audit is a snapshot of an organization’s communication strategies, activities, and programs (Coffman, 2004).  This process can inform an organization as to which communication practices work and which may need to be improved.  A variety of methods can be utilized in a communications audit, such as workplace observation, interviews or surveys of employees or leadership, and focus groups.  Communication audits are especially important for determining where communication breakdowns may have led employees to be confused or misinformed on organizational rules, policies, and practices.  Once areas are identified for improvement, organizations can determine an action plan to repair or implement new communication processes.

2. Provide a well-designed outlet for employees to communicate suggestions and concerns to management.  To maintain positive relations, many organizations utilize a variety of systems for employees to communicate their suggestions and concerns to management.  When employees feel like they have a voice in the organization, they are generally more engaged, especially when they see their suggestions implemented.  This also benefits employers as employees, being in the trenches of the organization, often bring to light ideas for change and streamlining of organizational processes, which result in cost saving and increased productivity.

In ERC’s recent Employee Relations Survey, organizations reported using many types of suggestion systems, ranging from face-to-face and group meetings to management blogs and social media. What is best for each organization depends on the culture of that organization but no matter what, there are some best practices that are recommended for establishing an effective and well-received suggestion program (Heathfield, 2010).

  • Appoint a cross-functional suggestion review team. Many organizations designate specific suggestion review teams or taskforces from a cross-section of departments.  Each employee in this group can provide a unique perspective on each suggestion and its viability, and this team often has the power to recommend and implement suggestions.
  • Establish guidelines for the employee suggestion program. Good suggestion programs have guidelines as to what topics are open to suggestions.  Typically, acceptable suggestions include ideas on cost savings, productivity, process improvement, and morale improvement.  Suggestion programs that merely become outlets for complaints and venting do not lead to enhanced positive employee relations.
  • Communicate the process.  A suggestion box tucked into a corner does little good for employees or for the organization.  For a suggestion program to be successful, the employees have to know how to submit their suggestions and concerns.  Employees should understand who evaluates ideas, how decisions are made, and how rewards are allocated (if applicable).
  • Recognize and reward. A very effective way to foster positive employee relations is to provide rewards or recognition for employee suggestions.  The resuls of a recent ERC survey (2010), showed that 30% of organizations rewarded suggestions in some way.  A rewards program has the potential to positively affect employee relations so long as the process is made explicit and employees understand why or why not they are being rewarded.  Keep in mind that rewards do not need to be costly—praise can be its own reward. For instance, in lieu of cash awards, many organizations provide recognition in meetings or newsletters for great employee ideas and suggestions.
  • Provide feedback. Feedback on employees’ suggestions and ideas should be provided, perhaps privately if suggestions are not anonymous. We’ve seen situations where employees are less likely to provide suggestions if they fear that their idea could be publicly rejected.  In some programs employees can actually track the progress of their ideas from submission to implementation.  If feedback is not feasible, acknowledging and showing appreciation for suggestions, at the very least, is crucial.

3. Have leadership interact with employees at all levels of the organization. A personal connection between leaders and employees can go a long way in building and maintaining positive employee relations.  When employees have an opportunity to meet, talk with, and be empowered by organizational leaders, they feel more emotionally committed to the organization, engaged, and willing to work harder for the organization (Avolio, Zhu, Koh, & Bhatia, 2004).  A recent ERC survey (2010) found that most organizations (86%) provide opportunities for upper management to meet with lower-level employees, and organizations can utilize a few different strategies to do so such as:

  • Walking the floor. In some organizations, leaders and upper management use a “management by walking around” style.  These leaders will walk around the office or work area, stopping to greet and interact with employees.  These managers are often on a first-name basis with everyone in the organization.
  • Social outings. Social outings and organizational events are great ways for leadership to meet with employees and build relationships.  Many leaders take part in fun games and events, creating bonding experiences with employees. A somewhat common practice is leaders cooking out for employees or doing something special to serve them.
  • Employee forums and focus groups. Rather than wait for employees to communicate suggestions and concerns, leaders can proactively invite employees across the organization to attend forums and focus groups.  Employees appreciate and respond positively when they have an opportunity to communicate their ideas directly to leaders, and this can go a long way in building positive employee relations.
  • Personal recognition. When employees achieve great things or reach milestones, personal recognition from leadership is a very meaningful occurrence.  When upper management communicates recognition, either personally or through a public venue (such as a newsletter or intranet), employees feel empowered to continue to succeed in the workplace.

The importance and value of strong positive employee relations is something that should not be overlooked by organizations. Strengthening employee relations can have great benefits for a business and one clear way to improve relations is through effective and well-planned communication. Any organization, whether big or small, is capable of fostering a rich flow of ideas and information among its employees. All it takes is a little forethought, some solid planning, and a true desire to listen and to share.

Additional Resources

  • Employee Engagement Surveys – To have ERC conduct an employee engagement survey for your organization, please contact consulting@ercnet.org.
  • HR Help Desk – For guidance and best practices related to a variety of employee relations issues, please contact hrhelp@ercnet.org.
  • Surveys – To download ERC’s Employee Relations Survey, please click here.
  • Training – To help your supervisors better handle employee relations issues, consider sending them to ERC’s Supervisory Series I workshops that will give them the tools and insights to succeed in their managerial role.

Sources:

  • Aviolio, B. J., Zhu, W., Koh, W., & Bhatia, P. (2004). Transformational leadership and organizational commitment: mediating role of psychological empowerment and moderating role of structural distance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 951-968.
  • ERC (2010). ERC Employee Relations Survey.
  • Coffman, J. (2004). Strategic communications audits.  Communications Cosortium Media Center.
  • Heathfield, S. M. (2010). Harness the power of an employee suggestion program: beyond the suggestion box.
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3 Responses to Foster Positive Employee Relations Using Communication Best Practices

  1. Our company is in the business of providing formal reward programs (and the infrastructure to support them). Many programs struggle because they don’t get managers engaged and prepared to deliver a recognition program. Some managers have the social skills and delivering recognition comes naturally…but others (especially in technical fields) need a lot of coaching and encouragement to deliver rewards and recognition to their reports in a way that produces real results.

  2. I enjoy the knowledge on your web sites. Thanks for your time.

  3. Vocoli says:

    I loved your article. These ideas for implementing employee suggestion were actually the inspiration for the structure of our app, Vocoli (http://www.vocoli.com). It helps managers organize employee suggestions and allows them to collaborate and innovate within a company.

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