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Employee relations impact on engagement and staff retention

With the current financial climate resulting in budget cuts, organizations can't afford to neglect employee relations. Creating a positive workplace culture can result in happy employees. And satisfied workers perform better and show more employee loyalty.

Amy Rigby

While employee relations might not initially seem worth prioritizing, disengaged employees can result in undesired consequences for your team and company. Now more than ever, employees are highly purpose-driven.1

So what exactly is employee relations? We'll define it with examples, relevant stats, and ways to improve your own businesses employee relations right away.

First, what is employee relations?

Strong employee relations focus on ensuring overall employee wellbeing. This includes engagement and employee productivity. Its purpose is to foster a good relationship between an employer and its employees, which contributes to a positive workplace.

ER professionals track issues and investigate cases related to a wide range of topics, such as work policy violations, behavioral issues, coworker conflict, discrimination, performance problems, and sexual harassment allegations.

Examples of employee relations

Investigations make up a large chunk of an ER professional’s workload. The most common topics investigated by employee relations professionals are2:

  • Performance issues
  • Policy violations
  • Behavioral issues
  • Workplace conflicts like discrimination, harassment, or retaliation allegations
  • EEOC or other federal/state/local agency changes

Before we dive more into what employee relations are and how you can improve them, let’s look at some workplace statistics that highlight why ER is so essential right now.

Employee relations statistics you should know

  • Only 32% of employees are engaged in their jobs. 'Engaged 'is defined as enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.3 With such low numbers, it's easy to see why team building and strong company culture are vital.
  • 57% of employees have left a job because of their boss. And 32% have 'seriously considered' quitting because of their boss.4 This just goes to show how crucial it is to improve the relationship between managers and their subordinates.
  • 63% of U.S. workers report they’re ready to quit their job to avoid work-related stress. Stress, anxiety, and depression cost the global economy around $1 trillion in lost productivity.5 Employee relations professionals need to find ways to provide extra mental health support during this time.
  • When asked about their biggest challenges, ER professionals mostly cited a lack of data-collecting technology, effective tracking tools, and a lack of a streamlined process. They report tracking employee relations data is bulky and time-consuming.6 It’s tough to do your job when you lack the right tools. Later in this article, we’ll talk about what HR can do to rectify this.
  • People in leadership roles have shown an increasing interest in employee relations data. This may indicate the growing importance of employee relations to companies due to a major increase in requests from leadership for tracking metrics. This suggests that tracking data is increasingly valued within organizations as well.6
  • The highest priorities among HR professionals in 2023 are maintaining employee morale and engagement, retaining top talent, and finding and recruiting talent with the necessary skills.7 With talent acquisition needs on the rise, we'll discuss how AI software can help identify the best potential employees.
  • Employee recognition stats found that 92% of workers are more likely to repeat a specific action after receiving recognition for it and that recognition increases employee engagement, productivity, and performance by 14%.8 If you want to improve employee retention, recognition on the job should be included in the employee relations strategy.

What are examples of employee relations?

Some examples of tasks that an employee relations department might carry out:

  • Identify and document issues that need to be investigated.
  • Investigate a potential policy violation.
  • Talk to an employee who is habitually late to work and skips meetings.
  • Track employee engagement and offer solutions for improving it.
  • Counsel a manager whose team’s performance is lagging.
  • Assess the needs of someone requesting special accommodations due to a disability.
  • Resolve conflicts between disgruntled employees.
  • Advise the company on relevant employment laws and when it’s necessary to obtain legal advice regarding a workplace issue.
  • Determine and carry out any necessary disciplinary actions or termination of employment.

Is employee relations the same as HR?

Employee relations staff are usually part of the human resources department, and do have some overlapping tasks and responsibilities. For example, an employee relations specialist might handle payroll and leaves of absence, much like an HR generalist would.

While there is a lot of overlap between human resources and employee relations, strictly speaking — unlike an HR generalist who would handle recruiting, training, and multiple admin tasks — an ER specialist would deal specifically with relationships between employees and their employer, always with the goal of keeping current employees satisfied and engaged.

So, bottom line: ER is HR, but HR is not always ER.

How to improve your employee relations policy?  

If you’re looking to improve the employee experience and develop positive relationships in the workplace, here are seven ways to get started:

Improve workplace communication between employees and your organization.

If HR wants to improve employee relations, it’s essential to polish your policy development in order to improve communication with employees.

This starts with ensuring the onboarding process includes sharing important company policies and making them accessible to all staff throughout their employment. After all, a forgotten policy is an ineffective policy.

One area that can often be better communicated is the employee complaint or grievance policy. If an employee has a problem or concern, they need a way to voice it (or they risk growing resentful, and your company will suffer overall). In your employee handbook, outline a clear process for incident reporting and bringing a complaint forward. Eliminate any confusion about how to proceed when a problem arises. Ensure that there is a plan for getting a problem  resolved so that staff are comfortable reporting issues.

Conduct regular employee surveys

Not sure what your employees need? Ask. Many companies conduct quarterly or annual employee surveys to measure employee engagement as well as collect valuable feedback and opinions. Spend a good amount of time crafting the questions. The way you word a question has a huge impact on how helpful the answer is.

Review policies that may be harmful to employees (and implement better ones)

Part of an employee relations professional’s role is to develop policies that improve the employee-employer relationship and promote employee well-being. In your position, you’ll pay close attention to trends in data and respond by analyzing what they mean.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you notice that working hours policy violations have been on the rise since Q1 of 2020. That’s when the pandemic began, and your company (like most others) switched to remote working. Your company’s standard working hours are from 9am to 5pm, with one hour for a lunch break. But according to your employee monitoring software, many of your workers aren’t actually working during those times.

When you dig a little deeper, you find that — far from slacking off — your employees who are parents are juggling working for you remotely while homeschooling their children.

As an employee relations professional, you make the case to managers and HR that it is in the company’s best interest to adopt a flexible working hours policy so that employees can better manage their work-life balance. Establishing an inclusive work environment is a key role of ER.

Show appreciation for employees

When leadership doesn't acknowledge accomplishments, employees are 74% less likely to stick with the company.9 When an employee feels unappreciated, engagement and loyalty will plummet.

Here are some ideas for praising and recognizing employees to create an engaged workforce:

  • Encourage managers to give informal praise. Managers shouldn’t wait for the annual employee performance review to give positive feedback to their direct reports. Train and encourage managers to recognize and praise good work as it happens. The more closely the praise is given to the event that induced the praise, the better.9 For example, if an employee stays half an hour late to resolve a payroll software issue, thank them right away instead of waiting for the weekly meeting.
  • Create an employee recognition program. The most popular of these is, of course, the Employee of the Month award. But think outside the box for more creative ways to increase employee satisfaction. Here are some real-life examples for inspiration:
  • Employees can nominate a coworker to win a covered parking spot by the entrance for a week in recognition of them doing something nice, such as opening a door for someone or cleaning the break room.
  • The highest honor in employee recognition at Delta Air Lines is induction into the Chairman’s Club, where honorees get VIP treatment (red carpet and all!). Top employees must be nominated by colleagues for this distinction based on contributions to the company and customer service, among other things.10
  • Publix has a variety of accolades for its employees, from a customer service excellence award for one store in each division to safe driver awards for truck drivers.11
  • Give bonuses. Who doesn’t love getting a bonus? These can be tied to performance or something else. In October 2020, Target announced that it would award more than 350,000 of its frontline workers with another $200 bonus, as a way of showing their thanks for their staff's extraordinary performance during unprecedented times.12
  • Award sabbaticals after a certain amount of time at your company. Reward years of service with additional paid time off for your employees to relax and explore a hobby. REI awards employees with a paid sabbatical (four weeks of time off in addition to vacation pay) after 15 years of service.13 Intel grants employees an eight-week paid sabbatical every seven years or a four-week paid sabbatical after only four years.14
  • Regularly recognize progress and milestones at team meetings. Including regular recognition in team meetings is a simple and effective way to boost appreciation. If you host all-hands meetings, you can dedicate a few minutes to praising a person or giving progress updates from each team. For example, SnackNation hosts a weekly 'Crush It Call', where team members volunteer to recognize someone who had "crushed it" that week.15

Start or expand your Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

2020 took a toll on everyone’s mental health, and employers would do well to consider how they can continue to improve the well-being of their workforce. Consider offering or expanding an EAP that includes mental health days, resources, and counseling services. The 2020 Workforce Attitudes report revealed the ability to text or video chat with a mental health provider was the number one service employees wanted from their mental health benefits.16

Begin by talking to employees and assessing their needs before you add resources to your EAP, and once you’ve added them, be sure your employees know to take advantage of these resources.

Develop your employee interpersonal skills

As mediators between employees, effective ER employees need to develop conflict resolution skills and have a high level of emotional intelligence. This includes the ability to notice, identify and manage emotions in one’s self and others.

Your job may call upon you to defuse situations involving an individual employee’s poor performance, policy violations, employee grievances, or harassment—you’ll need to be highly attuned to people’s emotions and how best to manage them.

An effective way to increase your EQ is to take the free F4S coaching program.

To get started, take the free assessment. It's based on more than 20 years of research. In answering the forty questions, you'll gain instant access to your highest workplace traits. You can then set up a team and invite your team to take the assessment. This allows you to see the work style motivational traits for your team to adapt communications to suit each individual.

F4S team dashboard shows and ranks team motivations

F4S team dashboard

Then you can sign up for any of the personalized coaching programs designed for more than 1,000 different goals. So whatever your goal is, you’ll be sure to have the support you need to achieve them.

Feeling unmotivated?

Find out how to unlock your motivation.

Powerful employee relations software

F4S can help ensure your HR team has the right tools for the job. Our people analytics and self-development platform can support HR departments, including employee relations. Our AI software can help with talent acquisition, and eliminate bias. Here are just a few of the ways F4S software can help:

Career growth

Our AI software allows you to gain deeper insights into current and potential employees' skills, motivations, and work styles. F4S analyzes an individual's motivations and work style. This allows HR departments to easily identify candidates whose strengths align with the role and organization, which results in better matches and lower turnover rates.

Build effective teams

Our cutting-edge performance and collaboration platform makes it easy to identify what motivates each member of your team, and the kind of leadership style they respond to. Get started by asking each team member to take the free F4S assessment.  View their results in the user-friendly dashboard so you can use a data-driven strategy to build a top-notch team. Then you can plan team-bonding activities that inspire and energize.

20-year Study Shows How to Build Successful Teams

Encourage self-development:

One way to increase job satisfaction and decrease employee turnover is by supporting professional development with personal coaching. Individuals gain access to free AI coaching after they've taken the free assessment.

They can improve their communication skills and problem solving abilities. You can suupport their long-term success with our Big Picture or Goal Catcher program. 90% of users reach their goals when they complete their coaching.

Focus on employee relations now

As you can see, employee relations are a key part of any productive and healthy organization. By ensuring that the employer-employee relationship is strong, you can create an environment where every worker is empowered to do their best work.

Especially during times like these, where stress and uncertainty are at an all-time high, it is worth it to invest in bolstering your employee relations efforts. As a recap, some actionable next steps for you to take are:

  • Improve communication between the employer and employees.
  • Conduct regular employee surveys to find out workers’ true needs.
  • Review policies that may be harmful to employees, and write new ones that are helpful.
  • Show employees that you appreciate them through praise and formal recognition programs.
  • Start or expand your Employee Assistance Program.
  • Develop your emotional intelligence.
  • Ensure your employee relations team has the tools they need for business success.


  1.  ( 2023). Available at: https://www.weforum.org/reports/chief-economists-outlook-jan-2023/
  2. (2023). Available at: https://www.hracuity.com/employee-relations-benchmark-study/
  3. (2023). Available at: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/468233/employee-engagement-needs-rebound-2023.aspx
  4. (2019). Available at: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-ddi-research-57-percent-of-employees-quit-because-of-their-boss-300971506.html
  5. (2023). Available at: https://www.crossrivertherapy.com/stress-statistics-and-facts
  6. (2022). Available at: https://www.hracuity.com/employee-relations-benchmark-study/resources/fourth-annual-employee-relations-benchmark-study-1
  7. (2023). Available at: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/pages/report-inflation-labor-shortages-top-hr-concerns-in-2023.aspx#:~:text=The%20top%20three%20priorities%20for,talent%20with%20the%20necessary%20skills.
  8. (2023). Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/ie/en/pages/deloitte-private/articles/recognition-programmes.html
  9. (2019). Available at: https://www.octanner.com/global-culture-report/2019/appreciation.html
  10. (2012). Available at: https://news.delta.com/delta-honor-100-distinguished-employees-atlanta-event
  11. (2023). Available at: https://sustainability.publix.com/customer-service-desk/associate-recognition/
  12. (2020). Available at: https://corporate.target.com/article/2020/10/holiday-team-thanks
  13. (2023). Available at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/rei-fyb/HR_Benefits_v2_18.04.23.pdf
  14. (2017). Available at: https://blogs.intel.com/jobs/2017/11/sabbatical/
  15. (2023). Available at: https://www.rebelplaybook.com/bonus-plays/recognition-that-crushes-it-snacknation
  16. (2020). Available at: https://go.ginger.io/hubfs/200626_Ginger_Report2020.pdf

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