Heart to Heart: 7 Strategies to Improve Remote Employee Relations

employee relations

Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, CloserIQ, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

As employers start bringing remote employees back to the office, there is renewed focus on employee relations. Problems that waned during the pandemic can flare up when employees are back in physical proximity.

It has never been more important for managers to step up their efforts. Good employee relations result in lower turnover and higher productivity. There is a lot at stake during this critical rebuilding stage.

Let’s look at some numbers about labor relations and job satisfaction:

Employee Relations Strategies: 6 Takeaways

  1. Only 42% of U.S. employees look forward to coming to work, compared to 84% of those recognized by Fortune 100 as “The Best Companies to Work For.” Fortune 100 (requires registration)
  2. 65% of employees are looking for a new job. PwC
  3. The World Health Organization has codified a new type of health condition that threatens the health of employees. “Chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” is the WHO official diagnosis. O.C. Tanner
  4. 60% of workers report being stressed all or most of their time at worked. (Udemy)
  5. 86% of millennials say they would stay in their current job if the company offered career training and development.
  6. Workers who give their managers a low rating are four times more likely to be interviewing for other positions than those who don’t. (TINYPulse)

Did you know that less than half of employees surveyed by the World Happiness Report said that they are happy with their jobs? Are your employees among them?

SHRM estimates that employee turnover costs as much as 200% of an employee’s salary. Since unhappy employees are more likely to look for another job, that can be expensive for your business! Fortunately, there are ways that you can help to improve employee relations and satisfaction within your company. Let’s discuss best practices for improving employee relations for the HR manager, line-level managers and business owners.

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1. Promote an Open Dialogue

Open dialogue doesn’t simply mean that managers talk to their employees frequently. It is an environment where employees aren’t hesitant to give honest feedback to managers. Open dialog is constructive and transparent. It focuses on problem-solving. Of course, you need good managers in the first place. Employees who feel that their managers are open, honest, and trustworthy are far more likely to have a positive relationship with them.

Open communication helps to prevent employee confusion and unnecessary stress. It can decrease friction between employees and their co-workers, especially management and employees. It helps to set clear goals and expectations. When millions of employees were abruptly sent home to work in March 2020 (due to the pandemic), effective communication became one of the biggest challenges for managers and the HR department.

Provide a way for employees to express grievances and to resolve conflicts. They need a way to express themselves openly without fear of retaliation. That doesn’t mean that employees should be able to rant to the whole office, but there should be a person or an internal process that allows an employee to bring up problems. Human Resources Management System (HRMS) with an anonymous feedback feature works well for hybrid workforces. However, it doesn’t do any good if no one monitors the forum and acts on the issues brought up.

Employees should also be able to ask questions and clarify ideas in a safe space. New policies, procedures, or expectations, including project expectations, should be communicated both verbally and in a written format. This allows employees a way to discuss and clarify expectations, as well as a resource to find clarification. Don’t forget that people absorb new information in different ways. While some learn best through written words, others learn best by hearing and doing.

remote employee relations

2. Focus on Company Mission and Values

Most people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. This is true for all five generations currently in the workforce. Millennials, especially, have a desire to be socially responsible and to benefit the world as a whole. The employee experience at a values-driven organization can create strong relationships and employee loyalty. Align corporate values with the way you treat employees.

Express your company values and mission frequently. More importantly, make sure leadership and management walk the walk. Few businesses have as a mission ‘make more money no matter what.’ Instead, successful businesses have a reason for why they do what they do. Your company fills a need that was unfilled before. You have hopes and aspirations for how you will help more people. You have goals and dreams for your business. Share them.

What inspired you to create your business? Why did you sacrifice many nights and extra hours to achieve success?

Core values such as honesty, empathy, and quality work help employees to feel like they are part of something important.

3. Increase the Ratio of Positive vs. Negative Feedback

Regardless of their actual performance, most employees feel proud of their accomplishments. For this reason, appreciation for a job well-done does more to motivate than does criticism. But it can be human nature to focus on the negative aspects of employee performance.

Instead, managers and Human Resources should try to focus on the 9 things done right, instead of the 1 thing done wrong. Many experts suggest providing 2-3 positive points of feedback for every 1 item of criticism and some experts suggest 5-6 positives to every 1 negative.

Employee relations experts recommend the following to help employees feel valued:

  • Say thank you for big and small things. It can range from a simple thank you card to verbal appreciation.
  • Tell employees they are valuable. They need to hear it. Letting them know when they handled a situation or a customer well helps motivate them to do it again.
  • Recognize high achievers. Public recognition is a huge motivator for certain personalities. Plus, it has the added benefit of showing that your company values and goals are important!

4. Inspire and Reward

Consider creating employee goals with employees instead of simply handing them down. Encourage employees to set stretch goals: goals that are difficult but achievable. When performance management is a two-way rather than one-way process, employees are more invested. Seek employee feedback throughout the process.

Google allows their employees to set quarterly goals. The goals must be difficult and measurable. These goals have resulted in Google tools that we now take for granted. These include a new search engine and Gmail (as a searchable email). Employees came up with ideas that changed the face of Google for the better.

Your employees often have insights or ideas that can make a big difference in their effectiveness or in the company’s success. Tap into those ideas!

Another way to inspire employees is to reward them. Consider having a gold, silver, bronze incentive for various achievements. But, make sure that these incentives align with your business values. Otherwise, you may end up in a similar situation with Wells Fargo, where corporate goals conflicted with corporate values and incentives won out.

Managers should reward and recognize as soon as a new team member is hired. After all, accepting an offer is their first achievement, right? It’s never been easier to send a branded welcome kit to newly hired employees working remotely. See 19 Items Your New Hires Expect to See in Their Welcome Kit for some great ideas.

5. Offer Career Development

Even lower-level employees can benefit from development. Most employees are happier when they have a goal or a dream to work toward. Map the career path for each job role at your company. Consider the skills and unused talents your employees have.

Whenever possible, take advantage of employee skills by adjusting their roles. This will help your employees develop new skills and will bring added value to your organization. This, in turn, will create good employee relationships.

Other ideas include offering a mentorship program which pairs employees to higher-skilled counterparts. Rotational training can cross-train team members to fill multiple roles. Tuition reimbursement or certification programs can also help employees to advance in their career. If you don’t already have career development, it should be one of your pressing Human Resources issues to tackle soon.

employee relations

6. Promote Healthy Work-Life Balance

Unfortunately, some employers forget that employees have personal lives that take priority.

Employees who feel supported at home develop a greater sense of loyalty and strong employee engagement. It’s not coincidental that some of the most sought-after employee benefits include things that provide for a better work-life balance. These include flexible work schedules, paid time off and health benefits that support family wellness.

But, it’s not all about the benefits. The attitude of your managers, when faced with employees’ personal dilemmas, will make a difference. Although employees often value the chance to work from home, this doesn’t mean you should ask them to take work home. Instead, work from home should mean work done during a normal work day.

Managers can be supportive when employees need to take time off. Note, however, that they should also be trained on watching for employee requests that signal potential FMLA use.

7. Use Software to Eliminate Redundancy and Reduce Mistakes

Implementing systems and software can make a big difference. That’s because it helps to automate and improve communications. Project management applications make it easy for managers and team members to see what’s required on a project and who’s responsible. Messaging apps can make communication instant and avoid the stress from unplanned lengthy discussions that often occur face-to-face.

With the right software, you can eliminate redundant tasks and tap into employee creativity instead. Consider that 10 minutes spent filling out a weekly timecard turns into 520 minutes each year. Let employees clock in automatically. This also eliminates tedious timesheet data entry by payroll employees.

Streamline as many HR tasks as possible. For example, through an employee portal, employees can view pay stubs, W2s, and request time off. They can also update personal information and view the employee handbook.

Consider the stress your employees endure when a key individual takes time off or quits unexpectedly. Suddenly employees are scrambling to recreate processes or to gain access to critical systems. Make sure you document and automate workflows company-wide. Good software lessens your reliance on institutional knowledge.

Lastly, software helps your Human Resources department stay compliant. Noncompliance has several unintended consequences that affect employee relations. For example, investigations are stressful and create an atmosphere of gossip and suspicion. In addition, bad publicity erodes workforce pride.

Conclusion

If you feel overwhelmed by employee relationship management, don’t worry. Creating an employee relations policy by starting with even one or two of these ideas will help you. The most cost-effective will be to implement software tools. Many of these tools are inexpensive and provide a swift time to value.

 

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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