Unit 8: Labor Relations and Internal Employee Relations
In this final unit of the course, we will discuss labor and employee relations and conclude with a brief perspective on how ethical concerns pervade all aspects of human resource management. As mentioned earlier in the course, an employer wants to create an environment that is attractive to potential and current employees. As you have already learned, the relationship between employer and employee can be a bit tricky. The employer has specific expectations when it makes the decision to bring a new employee on board. The employee has or should have an expectation of the employer when he or she decides to join and/or stay with an organization. Sometimes, there are significant discrepancies between what the employer needs/wants and what the employee needs/wants. In these situations, labor relations - or more specifically, labor unions - can help strengthen the employer/employee relationship.
Labor relations is a subfield of Human Capital Management concerned with labor unions in the workplace. Labor unions are independent third parties that represent the collective interest of the employees within a particular industry. Just as a marriage counselor serves as a mediator between a husband and a wife, a labor union seeks to balance the differences between employer and employee.
Employee relations is a subfield of Human Capital Management concerned with the prevention and/or resolution of workplace problems. This subfield encompasses poor performance and disciplinary action, the identification and promotion of policies/procedures, and the communication and promotion of awareness of the laws and legislation that impact the managing of human capital. These activities ensure that efficiency, equity, and voice can be achieved in the workplace for both the employer and the employee. But what exactly do we mean by efficiency, equity, and voice?
Efficiency relates to the ability to achieve a workplace goal with a minimal or minimized investment of resources. An employer seeks to achieve efficiency by engaging the most productive human capital and using the least amount of business resources. An employee seeks to achieve efficiency by asking for a specific balance between his or her time contributions to the organization and the economic outputs provided by the employer. Both an employee and an employer want workplace processes to be structured in such a way that each feels there is value for what they are contributing. Efficiency addresses the questions of: am I getting an equal or opposite response to the amount of work I am putting in? Are you motivated to help me be successful? Can I trust that within our relationship, you have my best interest in mind?
Equity relates to the partnership ideal in the relationship between the employer and the employee. The key to understanding equity is identifying with the fact that the business environment is typically not a democracy. An employer creates and enforces the workplace rules and processes that it considers necessary to conducting business. If an employee works for this organization, the anticipation is for them to comply, as employers typically make them aware of these expectations. Is the workplace environment stable and fair? Is there room to grow and do more? Am I treated like a subordinate or a true partner? These are just some of the questions asked when assessing the equity in the relationship between the employer and the employee.
In personal relationships, there are times when one person feels that the other is not listening. The same applies to the relationship between employer/employee. Employees typically want to work for an employer who enables them to be heard and to contribute to the functioning of the organization. An employer wants an organization in which employees have actively listened to and engaged in the proper application of any workplace rules, processes, and procedures, with minimal to no infraction. In both cases, the employee and employer are looking to "achieve voice” in their organizations. Most, if not all, organizations try to assist in the achievement of voice by providing hotlines for employees to communicate, implementing suggestion boxes for the anonymous submission of ideas or comments about the workplace environment, and establishing an open door policy. Because the employer is the more dominant partner in this relationship, the balance between efficiency, equity, and voice can appear to be a bit one sided; this is where labor and employee relations step in.
Ethical conduct requires us to ask difficult questions. Firms need to make the distinction between legal compliance and ethical decision making. Ethical lapses have been responsible for U.S. companies losing billions of dollars in class action lawsuits. Individual employees must also take responsibility to adhere to their firms' codes of conduct, codes of ethics, and various policies written to protect the employee, the company, the community and other entities their organization serves Articles below describe some of the issues and challenges faced by human resource professionals today to ensure these codes of conduct, codes of ethics and company policies are disseminated, acknowledged and followed and accurately reflect the values and mission of their firms.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 11 hours.