Thursday, January 9, 2014

Employee Relations: Is there an "app" for that?

Today’s technology 

Phones can do a lot of things – we can stay in constant communication with friends and family, pay our bills, translate our words into a foreign language, navigate around an unfamiliar city, read a book or play a game. Phones aren’t just phones any more – they are cameras, audio recorders, car starters, metal detectors, leveling tools and much, much more.

In business, phones are spell checkers and research tools, calculators and typewriters, calendars and schedulers, PowerPoint remotes and laser pointers. There are even applications that help you hire and staff, track production or sales and even market your products and services.

We’ve become so enmeshed in technological applications that we don’t do much without our phones.

Employee relations: is there an “app” for that? 

With technological advances, you may wonder, “Will there ever be an ‘app’ for employee relations?” I define employee relations as face to face, honest, open communication and performance feedback between an employee and their manager/supervisor. Employee relations also involves the synergy (or lack of) a company’s whole workforce and their understanding and adherence to rules, regulations, policies and procedures and actual work practices within an organization.

Recently I worked with two organizations that were struggling with employee relations issues.Their situations are similar in that the employees of both organizations are looking for consistency, fairness and a good place to work. The heads of each organization are too focused on reducing expenses, remaining profitable and just surviving, ignoring employees’ concerns or how reductions or recent change may have wreaked havoc on the workplace. Employee relations boil down to one thing: communication, communication, communication.

Improving employee relations the old-fashioned way 

How can an employer improve employee relations? First, periodically solicit (anonymously and without fear of retribution) employee opinions on the working environment of the organization. Ask specific questions about the benefits you offer, policies, processes and supervisory relationships. There are a variety of services you can use, but customizing an electronic survey using Survey Monkey is quite cost effective. Using the information you gather from the survey, own up to areas of needed improvement, then develop an action plan and follow through with those plans to address employee concerns.

The communication process involves trust. If you don’t follow through on your word, you’ll never have your employees’ trust. 

Secondly, meet regularly with your employees to announce changes, show appreciation and provide reminders of important issues and processes. This is like spending quality time with your kids. By publically agreeing to hold each other accountable for needed change, it solidifies the relationship and encourages a deeper level of commitment that leads to higher levels of productivity.

Finally, you or your managers (depending on how large your organization is) should also meet individually with employees and give them feedback on their individual performance and contribution to the organization. These talks should also reinforce job expectations and performance levels, as well as give employees an opportunity to ask specific and direct questions of you or their supervisor.

Use technology wisely 

In instances when you can’t meet face to face, use technology and send well thought out e-mails or use Face Time (for I-phone users), or Skype, Tango or Fring (for Android smart-phone users) to give specific, encouraging organizational information.

Technology is great and I never thought I’d hear myself saying “I love my phone,” but I do. Time will tell if an “app” will ever take the place of face to face, honest, open communication between an employee and their employer. In a way, I hope it never does. After all – it’s just a phone.

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