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Navigating rising employee relations in a shifting cultural landscape

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Navigating rising employee relations in a shifting cultural landscape


The Roundtable discussions often draw inspiration from news articles and podcasts. Recently, the spotlight has been on the cultural shift related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), leading to an increase in Employee Resource Groups (ER). This theme emerged consistently in conversations with both candidates and clients.

We kicked off our discussions by exploring the current EDI landscape within attendees’ organisations. While many organisations have made significant strides in EDI policies and initiatives, particularly in recruitment processes to attract diverse talent, there remains a challenge in translating these policies into practical implementation. Even during the early stages of an employee’s journey, such as onboarding, the cohesion between policy and practice can be lacking. Onboarding serves as the first genuine glimpse into how a company operates and whether it fosters a safe and inclusive environment

The focus has shifted beyond securing the ‘easy wins,’ such as effectively communicating job advertisements to attract top talent from diverse backgrounds. Now, the critical task lies in retaining these diverse candidates. Attendees shared common patterns identified through exit interviews and employee engagement surveys. Interestingly, one HR professional recommended using external providers for engagement surveys, citing greater honesty and transparency in the results. These insights help pinpoint the areas where diverse talent may be slipping away."

It was largely agreed that the gradual changing EDI landscape falls adjacent to the influx of a more demanding workforce in facilitating a rise in Employee Relations cases, an issue that impacts across sectors in largely a similar fashion. Interestingly, it was never really brought into question that the rise in ER was typically due to declining company values or environments. Instead, as one Head of People suggested; the rise in ER cases was indicative of the shift in perspective from against the People, to for the People. Employees feel safer in approaching HR to discuss matters deemed trivial and detrimental to their careers in previous eras. Having said this, the volatility of incoming and recent generations in the workforce remained an undercurrent in any explanations for the rise in cases. Although, perhaps their confidence to speak up is yet another testament to the changing culture around disagreements in the workplace?

One of the key areas to tackle that made a real difference in limiting performance concerns, generating a culture of psychological safety and identifying leaders for the future was effective buddy or mentorship programmes. Whilst nearly all attendees had some form of buddying or mentorship scheme in place, there was a unified struggle around engagement and commitment from both the mentor and mentee. Similarly with trainings in place, many professionals expressed their frustrations around employees consistently demanding further training and mentoring opportunities yet immediately prioritising other tasks and ‘clients’ during those booked times.

Some organisations have shifted their program language from the traditional “mentor/buddy” terminology to the more dynamic concept of “coaching.” By integrating coaching into performance plans, they have not only enhanced engagement but also improved commitment. For aspiring leaders, coaching serves as a valuable tool for promotion and skill development. Importantly, mentees appreciate the genuine engagement with their coaches, allowing them to discuss issues they might hesitate to raise with their line managers. This proactive approach preemptively addresses potential concerns. Additionally, placing coaches just one level above the mentees encourages open communication and ensures that potential concerns are shared. Furthermore, the practice of swapping coaches after an employee’s promotion creates stronger bonds with different colleagues, infusing the program with renewed energy and fresh perspectives. Effective coaching programs go beyond mere checkboxes; they foster a culture of continuous learning, support, and growth, nurturing the leaders of tomorrow. 

Another of the potential solutions was around taking the Mental Health First Aider Course and/or any other wellbeing training programme, not just for HR, but for all line managers. Being able to identify body language and other behavioural patterns more quickly and better to communicate with those struggling in any way has helped to mitigate potential issues before they escalate. This further encourages employees to speak out without fear as managers are better equipped to communicate and deal with issues.

There was perhaps less heated debate for this topic as is typical with these Roundtables. Instead, conversations were met with resounding agreement to large parts of the agenda which allowed the discussions naturally to ebb and flow, dissecting each area of concern with a number of tried and tested solutions from around the room. For many, it was largely the understanding that it was not just them that was the biggest help of the day; but also that in demonstrating this movement as unanimous, it further proved the rise in ER cases was a navigation HR has to go through but that they are on the right path to creating a more inclusive and psychologically safe environment.

C&C Search Boutique Recruitment.