Table of Contents
Labor-management relations are considered one of the most complex set of relations that any HR function has to contend with. Effective sustenance of labor relations assists the HR personnel in creating an enabling environment within the organization which, conversely, supports the organization in successfully attaining its objectives and goals. Well-catered labor relations give a competitive advantage to the company by removing the challenges emanating from a union or labor-related conflicts and issues (Alfes, Shantz, Truss, & Soane, 2013). With increasing pressure from shareholders to accomplish the organizational strategic objectives, as well as the ever-present competitive nature of a business, it is of paramount importance for a company to take important steps to acquire a dependable and effective labor relations support (Mello, 2015).
Employees are coined as the most valuable assets any organization can have. The amount and nature of work performed by an organization’s employees have a direct effect on the output of an organization. Therefore, sustaining good employee relations within a company is paramount to achieving success and growth both in the short term and long term. The Chartered Institute of Personal & Development (CIPD) notes that employee relations is a term that encompasses a wide range of issues from employment legislation, negotiations, and collective bargaining to more recent attentions such as the management of workplace diversity, equal opportunity, and work-life balance (George, 2015). Employee relations further comprise the initiatives or practice of making certain that workers are more productive and happy.
Employee relations give support in a number of ways including policy interpretation and development, employee recognition, and all forms of dispute resolution and problem solving. It comprises the management of challenges emanating from employment, terms and conditions of employment, handling employment practices, and giving employees the chance to voice their concerns through elaborate communication with the management. It additionally involves handling pay-work individual and collective bargaining activities. Employee relations is also concerned with the maintenance of the right balance between employers and employees; an important factor that contributes to increasing employee motivation and morale, thus leading to satisfactory levels of productivity. According to Darlington (2015), today’s scope of employee relations is bigger than in previous years. He notes that it involves the maintenance of a work environment that fulfills the needs of both the management and individual employees.
Lazaroiu (2015) notes that motivation begins internally or from within, and therefore, the management and the HR function should concentrate on promoting policies that can assist in fostering the kind of environment where workers thrive to produce optimal performance levels. Workers who are motivated have better performance as a result of increased work engagement levels and reduced turnover when contrasted to workers who are disengaged. Given the success of an organization is directly related with the performance and overall input of its workers, the organizations that commit to maintaining strong worker relations initiatives will benefit, given their personnel is highly charged and motivated to dedicate themselves to giving their best. Therefore, the management of these relationships is vital for both short-term and long-term business success, as healthy and strong relationships can result in greater worker satisfaction and even increased output.
At the time of its formation, the labor market was ruled by the classical economists’ perception, which championed unregulated and free labor markets. This laissez-faire capitalism resulted in inequities and social injustices because labor did not have the capacity to bargain or make any agreements with employers. In addition, the prevailing position of the employer in what was formerly referred to as the “servant and master” relationship obscured labor from relishing rights (Guo & Al Ariss, 2015). Labor relations thus came to adopt and champion some level of labor market regulation to amend the uneven bargaining power.
It was natural that labor relations grew within the theoretical context that challenges in labor relations originate extensively from market inadequacies, which operate against labor interests and lead to disproportions in the power relationships between workers and employers. The origin of labor challenges, even those within the organization, were seen to require attention through a range of actions external to the organization, such as government intervention through dispute settlement mechanism and labor laws; deliberate action on the part of the workers to safeguard themselves and enhance their bargaining power through collective bargaining and freedom of association, although supported by the state to guarantee these rights and privileges.
The HR function is traditionally tasked with many responsibilities under the umbrella of labor-relations support. These responsibilities include ensuring that the company has complied with all statutory and legal requirements of a country particularly about labor laws, including ensuring that proper audit is done of all other areas that the company might be needed to comply with under labor laws. Under this function, the HR function has the mandate of drafting documents and contracts as per the dictates of the law. Also, proper processes for termination of labor additionally demand efficient functionality on the part of the HR.
The emphasis on relations that are outside the enterprise, particularly by industry or national level collective bargaining, was at first applauded to a degree even by employers in numerous first world countries since it lessened competitive advantage. Furthermore, it addressed issues surrounding wages out of the employers’ obligation and reassigned its discussion to the representatives of the social associates vis-à-vis employers’ organizations and unions (Tansel & Gazîoğlu, 2014). The participating unions applauded it as it provided them an important foundation external to the enterprise through bringing together workers from multiple companies. It additionally offered a vital role in industrial relations for employers’ organizations, in addition to the state.
When replicated in developing countries, the labor relations model had disastrous results and consequences since it facilitated the politicization and multiplicity of unions. Incidentally, the workability of a labor relations system in which the importance was put on the most important decisions taken external to the enterprise presumed a high rate of literacy, in addition to awareness and education among workers, as well as the capacity to evaluate and follow the actions of their representatives working at a level separate from the places of work. In the case of developing countries, this was lacking. Under these situations and for the bigger part of the 20th century, the work of labor relations researchers and academics largely concentrated on dispute settlement, labor laws, collective bargaining, trade unionism, and generally on the external environment.
The stressing on collective labor relations was supported by government intervention in industrial relations through legal channels, which stressed on the normative features of labor relations, in addition to the growth and development of union power, which relied on decisions to be effected at the enterprise level being done external to the enterprise in a manner that had a normative influence. Subsequently, in many states, obligations and rules on employers were effected and executed externally in relation to a fundamentally shared relationship at the organizational level. Thus, companies had little or no flexibility to apply changes, which had to be effected within the strictures outlined by the externally imposed standards.
Deteriorating relations and conflicts at the workplace have a negative effect on the overall output of the company. Besides increasing legal costs, such instances also add to creating an environment of suspicion and distrust among employees and impede their capacity to work optimally. When strikes and industrial actions arise, the HR personnel helps in effective management of lockouts and strikes through working as a mediator between the management and employees (Kobersy et al., 2016). In this regard, the HR function assists in contributing towards achieving a collective bargaining agreement. Also, functioning proactively, the HR can help in effectively managing such situations.
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The common challenges experienced in the workplace, particularly regarding industrial actions resulting from employee dissatisfaction can often be cured through a responsive and proactive HR unit. The role of the HR in the management of labor relations in an organization cannot be underestimated. Without proper management, labor relations can get out of hand and stall whatever activity an organization has committed to do to achieve its objectives. Labor management is fundamental because it is the backbone of any business. As such, poor labor relations can lead to high turnover rates and low productivity. Good care of the members of staff is required if an organization is to achieve its bottom line. The research will additionally highlight labor management skills that can help create a conducive working environment.
The main objective of the proposed research is to look into the concept of employee and labor relations function within an organization. The research aims at answering the following research questions:
- What is the role of the HR function in the management of labor relations in the workplace?
- What factors are essential in effective labor management practices?
- What are the HR labor management skills that can help create a conducive working environment?
The phrase “Labor Relations,” also referred to as “Industrial Relations” denotes the framework in which employees and their representatives, employers, and the government interact to outline the basic regulations and frameworks for governance of work-related interactions. The term is additionally used about the field of study devoted to investigating such correlations. This field branched off from the industrial revolution, whose prodigality resulted in the rise of trade unions to represent employee groups. In the process of negotiations between employers and employees, there emerged a new field called collective labor relations. The HR plays an important role in the management of negotiations between employers and the representatives of the employees in the collective labor relations processes.
An industrial or labor relations system mirrors the engagement between the primary actors in it: employees and their representatives (trade unions), employers or employer’s associations, and the state (government institutions). The terms “industrial relations” and “labor relations” are additionally used about numerous categories of employees’ participation; they can as well include individual employment relationships between an employee and an employer under an implied or written the contractual agreement, even though these are normally referred to as “employment relations” (Kobersy et al., 2016). There is a significant distinction in the use of the two terms, relatively indicating the transforming nature of the area of study over time. There is the general consensus, nevertheless, that labor relations include various areas such as collective bargaining, numerous forms of participation of workers, including joint safety and health committees and work councils, and plans for arbitrating individual and collective disputes.
Both public and private interests are at stake in any labor relations framework. The government also plays a key role, even though its participation varies, at times being passive and other times being active in different countries. The nature of the relations between the government, employers, and organized labor about health and safety indicate the overall standing of the labor relations within an industry or a country and the obverse is equally true. A weak labor relations framework tends to be demanding and controlling, with regulations dictated by an employer devoid of indirect or direct worker participation apart from the time one is deliberating on the terms of employment provided (Fossum, 2014).
A labor relations framework integrates both techniques (dispute resolution, consultation, work organization, and methods of negotiation) and societal values (search for maximized profits, a sense of group solidarity, freedom of association). Customarily, labor relations framework has been classified along national lines, although the cogency and rationality behind this are fading given the more and more varied practices within different states and the emergence of a more international economy supported by global competition. Some states have been considered as having labor plans and frameworks that are cooperative, for instance, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland, whereas others are known to court conflicts constantly, for instance, the United States, Canada, Bangladesh, etc.
Scholars have additionally distinguished various systems based on having a unified collective bargaining process, for instance, the people in Nordic states, even though recently some countries have started moving away from this system as demonstrated by Sweden, bargaining at the plant or enterprise level (for instance, the United States, Japan), or bargaining at the industrial or sectoral level (Germany) (Alfes, Shantz, Truss, & Soane, 2013). In countries that have transferred to free-market economies having originated from planned frameworks, the systems for labor relations appear to be in transition. In the recent past, there is additional mounting analytical work carried out on the structures of personal employment relations as pointers to forms of labor relations frameworks.
Even the more standard depictions of labor relations frameworks are not by any means fixed depictions, since any such framework transforms to meet new situations, whether political or economic. The declining power of trade unions, the weakening of government institutions as effective players, and the globalization of the market economy in many industrialized states create serious problems to traditional labor relations frameworks. Growth and development of new technologies have modified the organization and content of work that additionally has a significant effect on the level at which collective labor relations can grow and the course they take. Workers’ conventionally shared common workplace and work schedule have increasingly resulted in more speckled working hours and to the performance of jobs at different sites, including home, with significantly lower employer oversight. What has increasingly been termed as “uncharacteristic” employment relations are gradually becoming less so, with the continued expansion of the contingent workforce? (Mello, 2015). This conversely puts immense pressure on established systems for handling labor relations.
Different categories of employee participation and presentation are adding an extra facet to the labor relations outlook in some jurisdictions. A labor relations framework sets the informal or formal ground regulations for the determination of the nature of collective labor relations, in addition to the structure for personal employment relations between employers and their workers. Confounding the situation at the management end are extra players, for instance, job contractors, labor contractors, and provisional employment agencies who may have duties and responsibilities towards employees devoid of having control over the physical environment in which the work is executed or the chance to offer adequate training in safety.
Employee Relations: The Case of Unionized Environments
Employees are represented by the union in matters affecting union membership and in conducting negotiations on their behalf in a unionized environment. That relationship is imperative about Labor Relations; however, a strong approach to Employee Relations is vital. A reasonable working environment dictates that as much as union members continue to remain as employees, their allegiance remains to the company. They maintain their high company expectations in spite of having little union activity involvement.
County and Carolina (2014) note that it is paramount that the union maintains a strong Employee Relations role similar to that in a non-union setting as well meeting employee expectation in the best manner possible. Contrary to punishing union members, unions should instead treat them as individuals whose contributions are appreciated and continually include them in social activities and company communications. In spite of the prohibition of direct negotiations with union membership, unions need to balance their activities such that they do not exclude employees from ongoing communications as well as to continue fostering a positive working relationship. At certain critical times, getting a union contract agreement or ratification of significant changes may be determined to be determined the manner in which the company is perceived by the employees.
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Employee Relations: The Case of Non-Unionized Environments
Using a Labor Relations perspective and Employee Relations skills, a union can continue keeping employees satisfied and strengthening their relationships in a non-union environment especially when the particular organization involves some unionized operations. Apart from financial issues, employees operating in a non-union environment may have some key concerns such as discriminatory and unfair practices affecting their job advancements, termination and disciplinary practices, and training selection (Niforou, 2012). Employees may be attracted to engage themselves with unionized organizations as opposed to non-unionized organizations if they perceive that unionized organizations have better practices than non-unionized organizations.
In several respects, it is incumbent upon a union to assume a distinctive labor relations role in maintaining the corporate practice, policies, and values with the same seriousness as it would ensure that collective agreements are complied with. This may particularly apply to dispute resolution and discipline where an employee is entitled to a thorough and fair investigation and the opportunity to present her/his defense before a decision is arrived at by the company.
Non-Union Freedoms within the Workplace
The intention of a union about a non-union environment is to support the freedom of an organization to maintain utmost flexibility and the freedom to act. However, where processes, procedures, and rules are concerned, the entire management is bound to wisely, professionally, and consistently follow them. The understanding of managers about the requirements and their importance is also ensured by the union. To ensure that professionalism and respect are maintained in all situations especially certain disciplinary investigations, appropriate coaching and training should be provided.
It is imperative that employees are aware of their union rights and the union’s commitments to them. In an Employee Relations environment, as much as it is not a collective agreement, the union ensures that value-based assurances of a company are upheld with the required precision of Labor Relations. In principle, labor relations are different from employee relations but with a significant overlap that ensures that any organizations achieve the greatest success (Kersley et al., 2013). To earn the trust of the employees, they need to be aware and knowledgeable of the union’s confidence and trust in it.
The author has opted for the historical and descriptive method since authors (Wildemuth, 2016; and Neuman, 2016) have noted that historical and descriptive research methods are beneficial since the historical perspective is the approach that change will occur and enhance one’s understanding, and further extend the research limits and horizons. It is not easy to find a clearer and confident statement supporting the historical and descriptive methodology than this. Neuman’s (2016) assertions was founded on the belief that the developments and changing events of the past offered good understanding of the undercurrents of the planned and ordered human enterprise.
This form of research methodology was additionally perceived as one that does not conform exclusively into either qualitative or quantitative method (Creswell & Creswell, 2017). It applies elements of both qualitative and quantitative methods within the same study, and the same is espoused many times in the research questions. This form of research methodology can additionally use many different variables for analyzing the different factors at play; conversely, despite combining the aspects of the two main methods, unlike either, it needs only one variable for analysis, an in the current research, the underlying variable is labor relations. The four primary objectives of secondary sources methods are: to outline, to authenticate results and to deduce from all the results having been authenticated to be true (Matthews & Ross, 2014).
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Conclusion and Implication
Employee relations are important aspects in the workplace. It provides support in a number of ways including policy interpretation and development, employee recognition, and all forms of dispute resolution and problem solving. The field has developed over the years to become an integral part to any long term strategic planning of an organization. Employees are considered the most important assets an organization can have. As such, the HR function has an important mandate of maintaining a good balance between what the employees demand as their preferred wages and salaries, and what employers give. The HR must also create an open communication channel to facilitate discussions between the representatives of the workers (unions) and the employers. The HR must also create an enabling working environment as part of their labor relations mandate within the workplace.
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