Fresh challenges in a new era of employee relations

The growth in the number of union recognition agreements during 2001 means
collective bargaining is back as a force to be considered in employee relations
– raising a number of challenges for internal communications professionals.

First of all it means there will potentially be an alternative
interpretation of events or prospects. Employees like to listen to both sides
of an argument and then make up their own minds. Providing the communication
professionals are doing their job well, presenting a credible case which
accords with people’s own observations and knowledge, there can be a healthy
debate. This can only improve the quality of decision-making and people’s

It does mean that the shortcomings of shoddy communication, which is merely
propaganda or which ignores important considerations, will be revealed.
Communications professionals will sometimes need to be tough with managers in
order to demand a high quality of argument. This itself may provoke a higher
quality of argument at senior level, where awkward facts can otherwise be
ignored, and contentious arguments seem impossible to raise.

The second challenge it poses is the organisation’s need for a coherent and
attractive vision that underlies management’s aspirations. In many cases, where
employee relations have broken down, it is because the organisation has failed
to create a story which makes sense to its own employees. Alternative views of
the role the organisation ought to be playing or how it ought to be run, step
into the vacuum.

The lesson on the renaissance of employee relations is simple: welcome the
challenge and shape up for it.

Jenny Davenport is the director of People in

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