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4 Ways to Strengthen Employee Relations During the Pandemic

In light of the current pandemic, the employer-employee relationship is more critical than ever. As companies transition to remote work at an unprecedented magnitude, this new arrangement can leave people at all levels of the organization confused, nervous, and frustrated. Without a strong employee relations plan or strategy, it is easy for managers and leaders to let relationships decline in a remote work environment. Now is the time to ensure your team remains diligent about driving positive employee relations.

#1: Understand Your Employees’ Experience

There are many best practices to consider, but it is important to start with an understanding of your employees’ experience. This can be assessed through surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one conversations with employees. Once you have gathered this data, share the information with your organization’s leadership.

Every organization has its own culture and set of values, so it is important to then identify how your organization defines success. It could be:

  • Increased levels of trust from the workforce
  • Improved engagement
  • Reduced turnover
  • More honest and frequent communication from employees at all levels

Once you’ve established employee relations goals, consider what actions will help move the needle on your employee relations plan in light of the economic downturn and increase of remote work. The steps you take now will make a significant impact on your employees to keep them as engaged, motivated, and focused as possible.

#2: Establish Work Teams as a Business Partner

A work team is a group of employees put in place to drive a specific initiative within an organization, giving employees the opportunity and responsibility to make decisions and recommendations that directly affect their work.

One effective way to drive positive employee relations is to create work teams and treat employees on these teams, as well as the team collectively, as a valued business partner. Ensuring work teams have a voice that is heard across the organization in this new environment of remote work demonstrates that employees continue to make an important impact at the organization. Work teams drive trust and buy-in from the workforce.

Visibility of teams across the organization will ensure the employees on the team feel respected and will drive more effective results if managed appropriately. There are several types of work teams found in an organization, and not all will have the same level of impact. Some examples include:

  • Employee engagement teams
  • Problem-solving task forces
  • Continuous improvement teams
  • Safety committees

Work teams must be given clear expectations and deliverables, as well as visibility with the executive leadership team. The team will need an executive sponsor to make traction with their goals, as well as a structured way to report out on wins and issues across the organization.

Work teams can be a powerful resource for an organization if managed well. Employees that are not on the team will see their peers getting involved in solving business problems and will be more likely to give valuable feedback and insight that might have been overlooked by members of leadership. Never underestimate the value of this type of insight – there is almost always an opportunity to empower employees to utilize this information in a meaningful way. There may never be a better time to incorporate meaningful work teams than now when many employees are working remotely and feeling removed from the day to day activities of the office environment.

#3: Maintain Proactive Two-Way Communication

The most important employee relations tools to master during a downturn in the business are respectful and open communication. Employees will not typically complain when there is too much communication but will feel vastly devalued and frustrated when there is not enough. How any information is delivered will be of utmost importance.
A robust communication strategy includes not only information from the leadership team regarding the business, but also a structured mechanism to give and receive feedback from employees and work teams. Employees need to be able to bring up issues and concerns and receive timely feedback in return. This feedback cycle can include not only an avenue that brings all employees together but also one-on-one communication and team feedback.
One important way to build trust is to encourage proactive communication, which involves creating a structure where communication is part of the organization’s operating system. For example, daily kick-off meetings should include an opportunity for employee updates or feedback, as well as a follow-up to previous issues raised by employees. There are many ways to build two-way communication into an organization’s established system.

#4: Establish Transparent Communication During Reductions in Force

One of the most difficult scenarios facing employers is the need to furlough or lay off employees to maintain the business. Employers must fully commit to strong employee relations during this stage in the employment life cycle. There are several considerations that employers can take when dealing with having to reduce their staffing levels.

Managers need to get in front of employees as soon as they feel there could be rumors or questions circulating and answer honestly if staffing reductions are likely. If the message communicated in an all-hands meeting indicates that the leadership team is unsure of a potential layoff, and yet employees are laid off a few days later, employee trust will suffer. Once employees have seen a disparity in words versus actions, it is challenging to win back trust. Instead, employers should be open with their employees and treat them as trusted business partners.

It is worth saying again, employees will rarely complain about too much communication, but too little follow-up on issues can undoubtedly result in diminished trust.

Another crucial driver of employee relations during a downturn in business is how leaders treat employees during the exit process. Employers ought to actively find ways to help employees transition. Offering outplacement support can help employees move forward with their lives more easily. How employees are treated on their way out of an organization is visible to those remaining and can have a big impact on employee relations going forward.

Archbright has many resources that can help with the employer-employee relationship during this challenging time and beyond. Our Employee Engagement Survey (EES) is an online survey designed to uncover underlying disengagement in your organization. We help set the stage for developing an action plan to resolve any issues discovered through the process. Archbright University classes like Communicating with Impact and Stay Connected: Tips and Techniques for Managing Virtual Teams are also great resources. For your exiting employees, we also offer one-on-one Outplacement Coaching and an Archbright University class to help prepare for an effective job search.

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Rebekah Menes

Rebekah Menes joined Archbright as an HR Consultant in February 2020. Rebekah has about fourteen years’ experience as a human resources professional working in a variety of manufacturing facilities, including aerospace and defense, food processing, and industrial electrical equipment. During her time at Archbright, Rebekah has supported members with investigations, handbook updates, and through the HR hotline.