What is ER and why should my business care?

By its very nature, Employee Relations (ER) can often be unfairly labelled as a ‘must have’ tactical, operational necessity. Something ‘stuck in the HR corner’, most likely gathering dust and certainly the last in the queue when it comes to budget allocation.

However, it should be a strategic ‘HR must’ for every single organisation.

In fact, highly capable ER capability is critical for the success and failure of any business – regardless of its size or prominence within the market. Why? Because a happy workforce is often a more productive, ambitious and commercially savvy workforce, driven towards inspiring success.

Employees are the lifeblood of any organisation, so for those able to foster a positive environment – one which embodies a motivated team of advocates eager to positively evolve – can often reap huge rewards. After all, the last thing needed are negative ER cases managed badly by line management and potentially damaging reputations, budgets and engagement.

Harvesting – and maintaining – a healthy company culture is an attractive proposition for the positive delivery of company goals, and ER is a key driver of this. However, why is it still not revered with the gravitas it deserves in the boardroom?

It’s time for businesses to take ER seriously for the strategic, advisory support it can deliver throughout and acknowledge the significant impact it can have on an organisation. It shouldn’t be a merely tactical, operational fire-fighting unit that’s not constantly reviewed or invested in, or a necessary evil tasked with ‘turning the same operational handle’ a bit faster and reducing spiralling employment tribunal costs.

Understanding its role

Holding the key to greater productivity, cultural robustness and staff skillsets, ER can be a business’s backbone which, without it, could capitulate. It’s a key advisory arm of the business – very much in the same vein as legal or compliance.

However, if ER is just an administrative function, attracting the right advisor talent will become impossible and the existing talent will exit the organisation because of better opportunities elsewhere.

Like any valuable resource, finding great ER advisors is incredibly difficult, so when they are discovered, they must be developed, motivated, valued and respected.

To truly have an impact, organisations must know that ER isn’t solely the last resort, however, ER teams must accept that they need to earn respect and trust from key stakeholders, which does take ‘transformational’ thinking.

This change requires a more strategic mind-set and the usual set of management skills that analyse the current capability at a key strategic business level. Some obvious key questions to ask include, ‘What does ER stand for in the business right now?’ and ‘Where can the best ER talent be found and nurtured?’

The future of modern-day organisations

Those with a continued tactical-thinking approach to ER – or having no focus in place whatsoever – can drastically undermine any ambitions of growth, staff retention and workplace wellbeing, which could be catastrophic for business longevity and commercial success.

So, for companies to truly thrive, it’s important to take the time to prioritise ER – in the same way all other areas of Human Resources (HR) are continuously reviewed and assessed – and understand where it really sits in the overall HR agenda. Those that don’t, may create unnecessary challenges for themselves which will have a greater impact upon the entire organisation.

It is now a priority for modern-day HR leadership teams and boardrooms to begin to appreciate the power of highly valued and effective ER management possesses, and why a more strategic focus and thinking to the subject is now a pre-requisite for the business winners of tomorrow.

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