Strategy & LeadershipBoardroom RelationshipsDoes ‘old school’ thinking derail employee relation strategies?

Does ‘old school’ thinking derail employee relation strategies?

Peter Byrne, the founder of HR business partner and employment law firm ESPHR  discusses the need for a new way of thinking when it comes to employment strategies.

The job of Employee Relations (ER) teams is hard enough, without the never-ending flood of cases landing on the desk, as a result of the latest indiscretion from a line manager who decided to take matters into their own hands. Peter Byrne, the founder of HR business partner and employment law firm ESPHR  discusses the need for a new way of thinking when it comes to employment strategies.


The ideal situation is one where every leader is striving for greatness for their team and handling HR issues brilliantly well. But in any organisation – where there is a range of personalities and daily challenges – conflict is certain to arise.

When matters are serious enough to escalate to the ER team, the situation has usually reached a point of severity when the business is already working on damage limitation. Although many situations may be the cause of a managerial mishap – that wouldn’t look out of place if it featured everyone’s favourite ‘rockstar’ boss, David Brent – often the causes are more systemic.

One of the issues is the prevalence of ‘old school’ thinking among many line managers when tackling matters of HR and employment law. Furthermore, the challenge that many ER teams face is a lack of technical knowledge and awareness of the risks these key stakeholders pose to their organisations.

Taking crucial time to prioritise ER

Line management may find it difficult to translate best practice and compliant procedures into the right action because of several limitations – for example, a restricted motivation and capacity to implement HR strategies since they are consumed by more pressing, short-term tasks.

They get frustrated by the issues at hand and want immediate resolution – so they can get on with the ‘day-job’. This pressing need for ‘instant gratification’ by a line manager often results in rushed and not considered thinking and actions, leaving the HR and ER teams picking up the pieces!

When stakeholders do not follow best practice in dealing with ER issues, it not only creates a number of challenges for teams, but has a wider impact on the entire organisation.

These include the huge time impact on key stakeholders to play ‘catch-up’ on an issue, already well down the road, as well as the negative budgetary impact of increasing legal fees and tribunal costs and the significant uplift in risk when line managers handle an issue in a careless manner, or simply do not follow the correct procedure.

Finally, the overall effect is to push the operational capacity of ER teams to their limit and take a load of valuable resources away from projects which may more widely benefit their businesses.

So, if the costs and repercussions of a management’s lack of knowledge are high, what can be done about it?

It appears stakeholders are not only driven by their desire to act quickly, but they often take action without any real knowledge and understanding as to the wider consequences. And, it is not just financial, but reputational risk and time which are both often further key considerations that are never contemplated when dealing with a frustrating employee.

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Put simply, line managers are in desperate need of ER training and support.

Training and upskilling opportunities

Education and a switch of mindset and management culture around HR and employment law issues – and their strategic importance to the organisation – are critical and much needed. Developing stakeholders to become more competent in performing certain tasks should help to reduce the weight placed on the shoulders of the HR and ER teams.

One of the most effective ways to head-off future problems – and stem the increasing flow of cases – is better training of stakeholders in how to identify and deal with a problem before it gets to the point of being escalated.

Previously, developing line managers was a costly and onerous activity often requiring huge sums of money and time taken away from the business at face-to-face workshops.

However, with the emergence of new technology, there are now better ER E-Learning options that are more cost-effective and can be worked in, and around, busy schedules. Line managers can self-educate themselves without taking valuable time away from the business, whilst HR sets the training agenda remotely.

Of course, E-Learning is not the solution to all ER problems and activity within an organisation, but it can form a key part of an overall learning and development agenda – and provide a cost-effective, rapid, and scaleable result to boot.

We have just launched a suite of HR compliance E-Learning modules. They have been created specifically to upskill line managers in a range of HR-related topics, helping them to deal with day-to-day employee issues more effectively – with the aim of helping HR spend less time firefighting ER issues themselves.

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