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In all societies and social organizations there exists relationships that dictate how people interact and employee relations are not an exception. Employee Relations(ER) in the United Kingdom (UK) have undergone noticeable changes for the past 30 years to improve employer-employee relationship as well as their relationship with the state or the government. Farnham (2000, P.3) claims that employee relations in market economies occur wherever work is substituted for payment between an employer and an employee. The essence of ER, thus, is paid employment or pay-work bargain between employers and employees. An employee is someone who works under a contract of employment for an employer. The discipline of ER encompasses such concepts as equal employment opportunity, effective communications between management and employees, documentation of employment actions, fairness and consistency in the treatment, complaint resolution processes and best employment practices.
Gennard & Judge (2002, P.18) defined employee relations as the study of the rules, regulations and agreements by which employees are managed both as individuals and as a collective group, the priority given to the individual as opposed to the collective relationship varying between companies depending on the values of management. ER is thus a significant area of concern under Human Resource Management (HRM) discipline since it helps outline the major rules and regulations that govern employment relationship for managing ‘human resources’.
HRM is concerned mainly with developing human resources in an organization which is essential for success of the entire organization. Human Resource management is the process by which management determines how an organization should move from its current man power position to its desired manpower position, thereby the management strives to have the right number and kinds of people at the right place at the right time to do things which results in both the organization and individual receiving the maximum long range benefits (Singh & Rawaat 2006, P.29). HRM thus views human beings as assets that contribute a great deal to the achievement of organizational goals. In UK and other countries, HRM has evolved to perform the following four vital functions; acquisition, development, motivation and maintenance of human resource. It is clear that since HRM deals with human resources who are the people working in the organization, then ER is significant area within HRM since it also concerns employers and employees.
The framework of Employee Relations
In the UK, the framework of ER is viewed as a tripartite system. This means that the framework comprises of three parties with distinctive functions. Pettinger (1999, P.5) proposed this tripartite system as comprising of three parties; government, employees together with their representatives and trade unions and the employers with their representatives and associations. He further clarified the functions of the parties; the state or the government in ER regulates all issues pertaining to workplace relationships including the rights and limits of trade unions activities, the rights of individuals at the workplace, the equality of opportunity, the rights of organizations and their managers, the right to strike and the right to work. The employee organizations such as trade unions ensure the employees receive the best possible wages, social security and also represent them in case of any grievances. The employers are charged with the functions of setting standards of staff management, attitudes, behaviour and performance for the organization, setting terms and conditions of employment, and acting in a fair and reasonable manner towards all employees irrespective of their race, social status, ethnic background and gender.
The historical development of employee relations in UK
‘Employee relations’ previously known as ‘industrial relations’ ancestry can be traced back to the industrial revolution that took place around the eighteenth century in the UK. As a result of many industries, urbanization was on the rise. Leat (2007, P.3) argues that ‘employee relations’ is a term that has gained popularity in the recent past and is commonly used to indicate a particular area of subject. Prior to this it is likely that one would have found the term ‘industrial relations’ in more common use. Thus the debate arises as to whether there are any distinctions in the usage and the meanings of the two terms. Some people have argued that the two terms are synonymous in that they can be used interchangeably while other note there are substantive differences particularly in the use and meanings of the two terms.
Blyton & Turnbull (1994, P.4-9) have contributed to this debate by explaining why they have chosen to use the term ‘employee’ as opposed to’ industrial’. They have pointed out that industrial relations became inescapably associated with trade unions, collective bargaining, and industrial action and had a strong tendency to view the work place as similar to heavy extractive and manufacturing sectors that were largely dominated by male manual workers. Using the term employee relations enabled them to focus on a much wider perspective that encompasses the now dominant service sector and also entails non-union as well as union scenarios and relationships.
During the industrial revolution in UK there was immerse changes in the social and the economic aspects of the employees working in the industries which led to the rise of industrial relations whose main aim was to find solutions to the problems of the employees. The Second World War saw the occurrence of strikes in an attempt by the employees to air their grievances such as low pay and poor working conditions. In the 1980s, Tyson & York (2000, P.255), observed that there was gradual move from the industrial relations to employee relations as well as decrease in the trade union membership. This move was triggered by the onset of various service sectors away from the renowned heavy manufacturing industries that were dominated by male manual workers, thus the term industrial relations was used since it dealt with industrial workers. Consequently in the 1990s, the trade unions saw the need to expand and address diverse issues such as problem of new sectors, occupations and diversity of workforce.
Changes in the UK employee relations
Employee relations are one area within the HRM that has experienced a diversity of changes in the last 30 years. Nevertheless, these changes are not without benefits since they are perceived to perform a complete overhaul of ER in the future by attempting to alter the way the parties involved view ER thus improving the employee-employer relationship. Tyson & York (2000,P.255), proposes a number of changes that have been seen in the last 30 years namely: changes in the occupational structure i.e. the strong shift from blue-collar jobs to white-collar jobs that emerged as a result of the onset of service industries, the invention of new technology called for changes in the job and working practices, more women were absorbed into the workforce which demanded that measures such as maternity leaves and social security programs be put in place usually through legislation to cater for their unique needs, decrease in trade union membership and the increase in the direct communication with the work force usually through a supervisor at a workplace.
Other significant changes include a shift from collective industrial relations to individual employee relations. Employee relations is said to cement a productive relationship between the employer and a single employee consequently contributing to the overall achievement of the organizational goals. Loosemore, Dainty & Lingard (2003,P.114), argues that industrial relations usually adopted the reactive approach in dealing with employment relationship issues whenever conflicts arose between the parties while employee relations adopts a proactive approach of anticipating the possibility of conflicts occurring and putting measures in place including laws to deal with issues involved.
There has been an increase in employee involvement in decision-making of any particular organization where previously the employers did not find any significance in consulting their employees on issues pertaining to the projects they want to undertake in future, their pay, allowances, development of employee’s capacities and also the contractual agreements between an employer and the employee.
Importance of changes in employee relations
The importance of various changes experienced in ER cannot be underestimated since they have contributed to commendable transformation of the employment sector. More so, the parties involved in the framework of the employee relations have been enlightened on their functions or roles and thus operate with an aim of improving the overall employment relationship. The gradual shift from industrial relations to employee relations has enabled organizations to focus on employees as individuals. Consequently, the organizations have embarked on the process of human resource development where they view the employees as assets that appreciate as a result of development. Werner & Desimone (2008,P.4) have defined human resource development as a set of systematic and planned activities designed by an organization to provide its members with the opportunities to learn necessary skills to meet current and future job demands. In addition, they argue that an organization is as good as its people and so with employee relations that focuses on workers as crucial then it has become necessary nowadays of employers to take their employees through a rigorous development process.
Smith (2010) claims that changes in employee relations brought about increased bargaining power of the employees and flexibility in working time. This increased bargaining power has enabled employees to be accorded better pay and working conditions. The flexibility in working time enables employees to work motivated by objectives whether individual or organizational where the employees do not have to be in the office with their superiors but rather can work from the comfort of their homes. This is especially beneficial to the working mothers who may also be single parents since they do not have to strain as a result of flexible working hours. Previously, employees worked under strict supervision of their superiors which made it difficult for them to even understand the objectives of the organization.
Another importance is the captivation of the morale of all the parties involved in the employee relations. The employees are motivated to achieve the organizational goals since their issues are dealt with and they are actively involved in the decision-making thus they clearly understand the present position of the company and its desired destination. The employers work hard in order to meet the current demands in the market of providing high quality goods and services due to increased competition. The government or the state work towards regulation of behavior of the other parties to ensure that there is less conflict between the employers and the employees.
The overall importance of the changes has been increased productivity in any given organization that practices quality employee relations. Increased productivity is as a result of increased competition especially in the UK which has consequently led to the production of high quality goods and services. McConnell (1993, P.149), proposes that when employees perceives their jobs as secure, they are more likely to be productive and are less likely to seek security through searching for other employment whether part-time or full-time employment. Job security also increases productivity of individual employees in that health problems such as stress are avoided. Thus the employers have to ensure that their employees experience job security thus maximizes productivity in an organization.
The future of employee relations in UK is certainly bright though the transition has not been smooth due to the past lack of commitment by the parties. These changes will impact on future developments especially on the employment law. The evolution of the employment law has been tremendous since the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century where the employers adopted a Marxist approach of attempting to maximize on the employees abilities and skills while the rewards were not motivating at all. Employees worked under deplorable conditions and even the minors were not spared from this exploitation.
Swan (2010) highlights that employment law is meant to protect employees from any mistreatment by their employers. Currently, laws to safe guard the welfare of employees have been legislated such as laws to establish fair wages, limit the working hours in a week and protect the minors from being exploited. In addition, employment law prevents employees against discrimination as well as protection of employee’s rights such as benefits at the workplace. This is clear that much has been done on employment law and still much needs to be done especially in assisting employees working in the private sector.
The future of employee relations will also be characterized by effective communication among the parties involved in any employment relationship. Communication is important in any relationship or in any organizational set-up. This minimizes mis-understanding or conflicts since the parties are aware of available channels of communication that are considered appropriate to communicate various issues facing them. This in turn contributes to mutual trust between the employer and the employee where difficulties or issues are solved before they become problems.
The importance of employee relations as supporting sub-system of the entire management specialty cannot be underestimated. The state needs to be in the frontline in the ultimate implementation of various measures that are contained in the employment laws. This will ensure that the employees get fair treatment at the place of work hence motivated towards the overall organization success and consequently better livelihoods for the entire nation.
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