The concept of employee relations is not new in the organisational context. It touches various occurrences that manifest in everyday mainstream media. It pertains to the relationships between the employees and management. Issues regarding conflict resolution, enterprise loyalty, and employee retention form the central focus of employee relations. This paper critically examines such factors and the related industrial entities that facilitate the process of conflict resolution in the workplace based on theoretical and empirical frameworks.
The Context of Employee Relations against a Changing Background
Disagreements in the workplace amidst employee relations are not a new phenomenon. In fact, the right to formation of labour unions and collective bargains, workplace safety and health, and non-discrimination is an accepted fact in many organisations. Maintenance of employee value and rights is an obligation in modern organisations. According to Fakhar (2008), employees need to extend their skills to handle the dynamism of the modern work environment.
Unitary and Pluralistic Frames of Reference
The unitary theory asserts that managers and employees share a common interest in the survival of their organisations. Differences that arise in organisations are perceived as the products of personality disorders, inappropriate recruitment, failed promotion practices, deviance of nonconformist, and/or poor communication among others. Finally yet importantly, the organisation promotes the workforce using a single source of authority. In the context of the unitary theory, any alternative sources of authority such as shop stewards and trade unions are eliminated from the workplace.
Contrastingly, the pluralists hold a set of assumptions and values that workplace conflict is inevitable. The belief is that business organisations are complex social constructions that are made up of different interest groups namely the management and employees who subscribe to different values and objectives. It is also assumed that there will be different sources of authority that pose potential threats to the organisation. The inevitability of workplace conflict is regarded as necessary for the health of an enterprise it reveals various grievances that are held by the workers. The perceived impact of a conflict on the organisation compels managers to explore innovative methods for handling employee issues.
The radical perspective is based on the work of Karl Marx. The Marxist theory held that capitalist societies were characterised by perpetual class struggle. In contrast to pluralists and unitary frames, Marxists placed employees at the core of enterprise policy. Provision of employment and equal social services to employees are deemed significant aims for the enterprises.
The Development of Trade Unions and Nature of Industrial Relations
The concept of trade unions has existed since the European industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. Workers came together to fight for better wages and working conditions. Trade unions fall into different groups based on industry, skills, and work trades. Industrial relations refer to the relationship between employers and workers in industrial settings. Such relationships can exist between individual workers. They can also exist between the workers and their employers or the organisation. The nature relations between the elements of an organisation can be seen in a number of activities that include formulation of decisions and conflict management among others.
Role of a Trade Union and its Contribution to Effective Employee Relations
While the influence of trade unions has lately diminished, their efficacies remain significant. The significance of trade unions in determining the welfare of workers cannot be underrated. The contributions of trade unions to the lives of employees have offered exposure to the Bahrain industries. Trade unions are accompanied by the imposition of legal constraints on the capacity of recruitment, organisation, and collective bargaining in industrial processes. In Britain, the most significant role of trade unions is to shape the people’s lives in their workplaces. However, a decline in the proportion of workers who are members of the unions over the last one decade has been noted.
Roles taken by the Main Actors in Employee Relations
The primary actors in employee relations comprise three primary actors namely the employees or unions, employers, and the state. Employees raise their grievances that have to be resolved by the management. The role of managers is to listen to the disputes keenly without bias and consider the focus of the employee on the issues of concern. The state comes in when the subject matter escalates beyond the organisation level. In such cases, it mediates between the employer and workers. Trade unions can represent workers when the matter goes beyond the potential of the organisation.
Nature and Causes of Industrial Conflicts and Collective Resolution of Disputes
Conflicts are part of organisations on the assumption that activities continue to involve human interactions. Scholars attest that conflicts are desirable (pluralists). Therefore, organisations cannot eliminate differences. Organisational clashes emerge from interdepartmental rivalries, disputes between managers, and interpersonal tensions among other factors. Industrial conflicts refer to aspects that are connected with employment relationships. They are based on either personal or joint conflicts that arise in the organisation.
Organisational assessment of disputes is necessary to guarantee employees justice and promotion of their talents. Conflicts that are mitigated at the interdepartmental level reduce the cost of conflict resolution significantly. At the outset, internal dispute resolutions (DRSs) reduce employees’ perceptions of unfair legal procedures as the organisation can use lawyers who are expensive and cannot be hired by individual workers. In addition, the cost of DRSs is comparatively low. A substantial body of literature suggests that increased participation in dispute resolution processes increases the likelihood of realising an amicable result that satisfies the affected parties.
Dispute procedures and the resolution of Conflict and Application
The process of mitigating conflicts can take place in a number of ways such as negotiation, mediation, or adjudication. The steps below are followed in the process of conflict resolution.
- The claimant approaches their managers to present the problem
- Falling resolution. The issue is discussed further with more senior managers
- Falling resolution of the matter. The employer refers the dispute to a more senior level of management in the firm
- In case the matter remains unresolved, the parties may jointly/individually refer the issue to the fair work of the commission
A successful dispute resolution within the organisation is recommended. However, in the event of disagreement between employees and the management to high heights justice can be sought through other associations such as collective bargaining and trade unions. The associations can then seek justice through court procedures. These procedures proved successful in a school setting following a merger of three colleges. After a couple of weeks, some staff members raised complaints against either the line managers or colleagues on the grounds of behaviour, communication, and poor management.
Both the HR and union representatives had been keen to exhaust informal routes before moving to a formal stage and had reached an agreement with staff members that this was an appropriate stance to take. Avoiding formal grievances was considered important for a number of reasons. First, both interviewees felt that employees were not always aware that the process of bringing a formal grievance was stressful. The abovementioned steps were followed; hence, the disputes did not reach the senior management before a common stance was established among the actors.
Collective Bargaining and Negotiation
Collective bargaining touches on the ability of workers to negotiate freely for proper working relations. The significance of collective bargaining cannot be taken for granted in an organisational setup. Fairness in the employment relationship averts scenarios of costly labour disputes, rampant workers strikes, and persistent unemployment. Collective bargaining is a joint work that is done by one or more people. The resulting situation is a collective agreement. For example, in North America, the government is the only body entitled to issue a certificate of recognition to the workers’ union (Stewart 2010, p. 25).
Collective Bargaining and the Negotiation Process
Collective bargaining can be applied to both sectorial and organisational levels. At the sector level, agreements are made between the representatives of employers and trade unions. In the organisational level, collective agreements take place between local trade unions and the management of the enterprise. Collective bargaining is recognised in the laws of many countries. In GIB, Bahrain, collective bargaining has resolved many conflicts involving working conditions and salaries for the bank employees. It proved successful after the bank management and employees failed to establish a common ground on the matter pertaining the working conditions in Bahrain.
Negotiations processes begin with preparation and planning where tracing the history of the conflict becomes a necessity (Stewart 2010, p. 45). Groups then formulate decisions that can drive them to a common ground. In this part, the process outlines the procedure of negotiation by inviting parties to present their proposals or demands. The third stage involves confirmation of the claims. The parties present their grievances by justifying their concerns.
Problem solving and bargaining are another phase of negotiation. As parties bargain, they explore opportunities of give and take to reach an amicable solution. This process entails concessions that both parties must give in to accommodate one another. Finally, negotiation concludes with closure and implementation process where formalisation of the agreement reached takes place (Stewart 2010, p. 255). Parties can choose to form an implementation committee that oversees the progress of the agreements reached.
The Concept of Employee Participation and Involvement
Employee participation and engagement are critically important areas for both competitive and productive business environment (Stewart 2010, p. 251). Active employee participation and involvement engage employees in decision-making processes. Therefore, employee involvement and participation is a part of the worker empowerment process in the workplace. Involving the employees in decision-making is synonymous with involving people in the concept and process of management and leadership. These concepts enable employees to contribute to the progressive improvement of the organisation. Active engagement of employees in organisational decisions brings about a feeling of appreciation that improves self-esteem and confidence. Firms that fail to recognise employee contributions are exposed to deteriorated coordination (Stewart 2010, p. 252).
Effectiveness of Arrangements made by Two Organisations to involve their Employees in Decision-Making
Employee involvement in decision-making has proven effective for Virgin Atlantic and Research in Motion companies. Engaging employees in decision-making induces innovation and commitment. Employees in Virgin Atlantic take part in decision-making processes. Therefore, they enjoy the autonomy of implementing those decisions at the department level with a view of achieving the common organisational goals. Similarly, employee involvement in the company promotes the coordination between the workforce and management as they invest in technology in an attempt to gain competitive advantage in the market.
The influence of the EU on Democracy in the UK
The creation of the European Union (EU) aimed at developing a common market to remove tariffs and barriers to trade. The influence of trade unions is highly recognised in the United Kingdom. According to Stewart (2010, p. 145), the EU aims at standardising the democracy and technical regulations of a common market within the region. Employees in the UK are endowed with privileges that allow them to seek fairness in the job market (Stewart 2010, p. 146).
Employee relations cover all forms of human interactions such as corporate efforts, group, and interpersonal relations (Mohinder & Katou 2007, p. 578; Stewart 2010, p. 146). Employee involvement inspires a unique kind of empowerment that nurtures higher skills, greater flexibility, and the organisation’s competitiveness. The Gulf International Bank continues to grow along these pathways by recognising employee involvement in all its endeavours (Gulf International Bank 2002, p. 455). Greater employee involvement leads to increased expectancy at work, greater job satisfaction, and employee performance among other modifications.
It is evident that organisational conflicts are unavoidable. The aspect of employee relations provides a guiding framework for conflict resolution strategies with a view of sustaining the life of the organisation and preserving the esteemed workforce. Although some of the measures of handling conflicts are phasing out in the modern world, the conventional processes of tension resolution in the organisations remain.
Fakhar, M 2008, The Unitary and Pluralistic Frames of Reference, Web.
Gulf International Bank 2002, large wholesale and investment bank active throughout the Gulf region 2002, HSBC Bank, London, UK.
Mohinder, C & Katou, A 2007, ‘The impact of HRM practices on organisational performance in the Indian hotel industry’, Employee Relations, vol. 29 no. 6, pp. 576-94.
Stewart, P 2010, Employee relations, Emerald Publishing, Bingley, UK.