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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


Often, our topics for Roundtables stem from news articles we have read or podcasts we have listened to. However, the culture shift around EDI and the resulting rise in ER has been a common motif in our conversations with both candidates and clients and was echoed in the responses from attendees.

The discussions started with a leading question around the current landscape of EDI in attendees’ organisations. For many, there had been strong ‘gains’ in EDI policies, initiatives, and, in particular, around the recruitment process to attract diverse candidate pools. However, many admitted a lack of cohesion in translating those initial policies into practice even as early in the employee lifecycle as the onboarding process. Onboarding is the first genuine indication employees get to how the company operates and ultimately, how safe and inclusive they may feel there. The problem now is not so much on securing the ‘easy wins’; such as ensuring adverts are appropriately communicated to attract the very best talent from all pools; but on retaining these diverse candidates. From those in attendance, these patterns had been most commonly identified through exit interviews and employee engagement surveys. One HR professional suggested using external providers for engagement surveys and evidenced far greater honesty and transparency in the results to highlight the epicentres for losing diverse talent.

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.

Nevertheless, some organisations present were able to share their successes around the area. Shifting the language of the programmes from mentor/buddy to coaching and embedding the relationship into performance plans has been shown to enhance engagement and improve commitment. For future leaders, they identified coaching as a way to leverage for promotion and gain valuable skills, whereas for the ‘mentee’ they felt they had the genuine engagement to discuss issues with their coach they may not wish to speak with their line manager about, thereby mitigating potential issues before they escalated. Another tip taken on board by many around the table was the placing of coaches as just one level above the ‘mentee’ meaning they are more likely to share any potential concerns. It also meant that once someone was promoted, your coach was swapped to someone else creating stronger bonds with different colleagues in the company whilst keeping the programme fresh and bringing renewed energy.

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.