The short, simple definition of "employee relations" is the interaction between management and workers. But the term actually refers to multiple employee-related issues, from employee engagement and performance to workplace policies, benefits and conduct. Whatever the definition, employee relations is about keeping the workplace as productive and free of conflict as possible.
Organizations discovered decades ago that job satisfaction makes employees more productive -- not old-school, command-and-control-style management. Employee relations, also known as industrial relations, increases and sustains productivity by fostering a positive, collaborative workplace. The theory is that organizations succeed when they engage employees in their plans and operations. BlessingWhite, a research firm specializing in human capital, released similar findings in a global study, "2013 Employee Engagement Research Report Update." The study cites the top employee motivators as clear communication from organizational leaders, feedback on work performance, opportunities to use skills and career development.
Employee relations specialists often have human resource backgrounds and work either with or in HR departments. HR training enables them to spot talent when recruiting for organizations and oversee performance evaluation procedures. Employee relations specialists regularly interview staff to gauge the level of employee satisfaction in the workplace. They identify problems that disrupt productivity, such as poor employer-employee communication, high turnover and absenteeism, low morale and misconduct. They follow up by consulting with organizational leaders on appropriate solutions. To lower turnover, for example, they might recommend adopting an employee recognition program or offering flexible work schedules.
Employee relations managers have expertise in labor relations, including union negotiations, and conflict resolution. They handle employee complaints, investigations, grievances and disciplinary procedures. They also know how compensation and benefits programs work and help staff understand their health care, savings and retirement plans. They see that employees know and abide by workplace policies and procedures. To ensure that organizations are complying with employment mandates, they inform employees about their rights and responsibilities under laws and regulations covering harassment, discrimination, safety and family leave.
Since employee relations specialists spend much of their time counseling and motivating staff, they must be able to express information and ideas clearly. They need strong negotiating skills to participate in bargaining-unit talks and resolve conflicts between opposing parties. They must be active listeners and know how to initiate dialogue in interviews with staff and job candidates. Employee relations specialists need analytical and critical thinking skills to collect and evaluate data, which they use to measure the success of a strategy to, for instance, lower absenteeism or raise retention rates.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups employee relations specialists with human resource specialists. The BLS predicts a 21-percent growth in HR jobs between 2010 and 2020. This growth is higher than the national average of 14 percent for all other occupations. Most jobs are expected to be in the employment services industry, where 17 percent of HR professionals work. The industry includes temporary employment agencies, placement firms and organizations specializing in hiring professionals. Although job growth is above average for HR specialists, organizations are expected to outsource HR functions that were once in house. HR specialists earn between $44,000 and $77,000, with employment-service wages the lowest and federal wages the highest.
2016 Salary Information for Human Resources Specialists
Human resources specialists earned a median annual salary of $59,180 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, human resources specialists earned a 25th percentile salary of $44,620, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $78,460, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 547,800 people were employed in the U.S. as human resources specialists.
Valerie Bolden-Barrett is a writer, editor and communication consultant specializing in best business practices, public policy, personal finance and career development. She is a former senior editor of national business publications covering management and finance, employment law, human resources, career development, and workplace issues and trends.