Employee Relations refers to interactions between a business and

Relations refers to interactions between a business and its employees (Wiley,
2006). Abbott (2016) says there is on-going debate within literature about what
the term encompasses as it differs from older definitions of people management.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD, 2016) state it is important
to note many organisations use the term ’employee relations’, because the
historic term, ‘industrial relations’ is no longer used as it does not
represent today’s employment relationship. Bratton and Gold (2017) say employee
relations is used in myriad situations and covers both non-union and union


and Turnbull argue (1994) employee relations focuses on the individual and
their relationship with their employer which is the unitarist perspective; Marchington
and Wilkinson (1996) say focus should be on both collective and individual relations
and argue employees should be at the centre of the relationship and should not
be controlled by management. Typically, the unitarist perspective emphasises
the role of management and seeks to establish methods for ensuring control
(Beardwell and Claydon, 2007). Despite individualism becoming more popular than
collective bargaining which is the view of pluralists, it has been argued that
an organisation may not survive unless the employment relationship is
successful (Daniels, 2006).

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Unitarist theory is one that
explores the positive relationship. Abbott (2006) states unitarists do not
recognise workplace conflict, as employee-employer dispute is not a predictable
attribute of the workplace instead it is set up through values and loyalty. Monarch’s
recent downfall highlighted staff loyalty to the organisation (Horton, 2017). Monarch
adopted the unitarist approach as it was a family run company, Bendix (2000) says
unitarists see themselves “as a head of the big family and they are prepared to
look after the employees as long as they behave in terms of their rules and
demands” (p.20).


Gilbert, De Winne and Sels (2015) declare
unitarist theory has positive results on job satisfaction as the organisation and
its employees have mutual objectives resulting in a naturally harmonious
environment (Loosemore, Dainty & Lingard, 2003). Conflict being preventable
means trade unions are unnecessary (Bendix, 2000). Ryanair’s CEO, says the
company does not recognise unions and prefers to negotiate directly with
employees (Crouch, 2015). This has generated criticism over their poor working
conditions and violation of employee’s rights (Denham, 2017) meaning they may begin
to allow union representation to sustain performance (Clark, 2005). Bendix
(2000) argues employers may have to adopt a pluralist attitude due to employees
now being aware of their rights which challenges the unitarist employer. However,
Bratton and Gold (2017) argue decline in membership of trade unions over the
past decade shows organisations are now adopting a union-excluding strategy.


unitarist theory, pluralists do not overlook conflict which can result in a negative
relationship between HR processes and organisations effectiveness (Gilbert,
De Winne & Sels, 2015). Nonetheless, it has been argued this conflict can
be useful, if identified and controlled effectively as the conflict is due to
stakeholders having different goals and interests (Hunter, 1998). Mullins (1999)
added conflict can also be a catalyst for change within an organisation.


Trade unions are viewed positively
by pluralists as they empower employees and help them make decisions enabling
resolutions to be implemented (Leat, 2001). However, a British Airways staff
strike over pay showed the disruptiveness trade unions cause when conflict can
be not resolved (Monaghan, 2017). The strike contributed
to a decrease in profits and a fall in the number of customers flying with
British Airways (Calder, 2017).


conflict is difficult to manage as the employer’s main aim is to minimise
labour costs (Leeper, Greene and Nisbett, 1963) whilst, as identified by
Herzberg’s (1968) motivation theory, pay is an extrinsic reward and is
classified as a ‘hygiene’ factor and provides one of the main incentives for
employees to work (Hackman & Oldham, 1976).
This is also associated to Taylors (1974) scientific management theory. Bendix
(2001) argues because the employer has the
power in this situation this leads to conflict as there is no common interest. Robinson,
Fallon, Cameron and Crott (2016) suggest this is a major drawback of the pluralist
theory as it does not accommodate for this inequality of power, meaning Government
intervention may be necessary to protect workers.


Kitay and
Marchington (1996) say modern-day employment legislation now dictates organisational
decisions and in turn performance resulting in inefficiencies within the trade
union movement and the collective bargaining process. Managing people has varied over time and employees now need more
than just pay. Consequently, not one single theory is applicable to today’s
workplace, for employers to cultivate employee involvement they need to
interchange between different HR strategies. (Sheldrake, 2003). Toyota uses
both unitary and pluralist methodologies in their organisation. Despite them recognising
conflict employees are empowered with solving some of these business’ issues to
find mutual benefit for Toyota and its employees (Johnston, 2001).


CIPD (2008) looked
at the impact of an engaged workforce on organisational performance. Macleod
and Clarke (2011, pg.14) showed that “engaged employees in the UK take an
average of 2.69 sick days per year; the disengaged take 6.19.” Markos (2010)
indicated employees that are highly involved in their work are likely to become
immersed in the organisation with passion for business success. However, CIPD
(2008) argue engaged employees are not always satisfied with their work and
there are many components to the workplace relationship. It is up to leaders of
an organisation to cultivate this engagement (Markos, 2010). This is consistent with Bratton and
Gold’s four-dimensional theory (2017), see below, which represents a model of
best practice in creating an engaged workforce focusing on employee:
communication; voice; rights/grievances; and discipline.



involvement is said to be underpinned by the notion of the ’employee voice’, which
Bratton and Gold (2017) describe as central to HR decision-making as represented
in their model. Communication is critical in managing the employment
relationship as employee’s voice becomes pointless if the message is ignored
and it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure it has impact on
influencing decisions as it affects employees working lives (Strauss, 2006). Thomson
(2015) says social media has made communication an obsession in today’s
workplace, however it is often neglected. He added effective communication
takes place when an employee is aware of how their work is contributing to an
organisation’s strategies so they can align individual objectives accordingly.


Rogala and
Bialowwas (2016) identified different forms of exchanging information in an
organisation: verbal, non-verbal and written. Written communication is an ever-increasing
form of communication through use of social media meaning many platforms such
as Facebook and Linkedin are being used across organisations (Bratton and Gold,
2017). CIPD (2017) communicate this is an effective communication tool as it is
a quick way of reaching many employees throughout an organisation. Marks and
Spencer claim they have encouraged employee involvement and knowledge sharing through
use of their social technology, Yammer (Marks and Spencer, 2016).


Many of the
concepts look at the relationship that exists between the sender and the
receiver, communication can also be classified in the direction it is
communicated (Rogala and Bialowwas, 2016). Bratton and Gold (2017) state all
managers use downward communication to communicate messages, however argue to
encourage employee involvement communication needs to be a two-way process so
employees can take part. Engage for success (2012) examined ways to encourage effective
two-way communication streams: the article encouraged employers to ask employees
for their ideas concerning ways to improve organisational performance through feedback
links such as surveys and focus groups which encourages upward problem solving.


Guest and Conway
(2002) argue the psychological contract is useful in encouraging employee
engagement in the communication process. This is line with Bratton and Gold’s
model regarding ’employee discipline’ as Rousseau (1989) defined the
psychological contract as the set of beliefs an employee holds regarding their
expectations within the organisation, in return for their work. As the contract
governs perceptions of the employer-employee relationship there may be
conflicts of interest as the basis of the contract relies on mutual interest (Meuse
& Marks, 2003). An effective psychological contract is one where both
parties agree a balance of giving and taking. However, Shenton (2007) says this
can be difficult to achieve in an organisation where there a lot of hidden
perceptions, an organisations aim should therefore be to encourage open
communication so there is mutual awareness. Luft and Ingham (1961) developed
the Johari Window model to help with expanding this awareness, see Appendix A
and despite the age of the model, it is still widely used by organisations (Shenton,


Thomas, Au and
Ravlin (2003) also expressed it is important to consider wider organisational
culture and its impact on the relationship. Guest (2004) developed a framework,
see appendix B, in applying the contract and how this fits in the stages of the
employment relationship, he added the contract must be communicated clearly for
it to impact positively. This, as shown in the model, encourages trust from
employees and leads to employee involvement with two benefits: attitudinal
consequences and behavioural consequences.


Sometimes conflict
of interest fails to be resolved and the involvement of an independent agent,
such as a trade union or non-union employee representative, may act and be the
collective voice for the organisation (Gollan, 2005). Despite organisations moving
towards individualism sometimes a collective voice is more powerful when
dealing with employee rights and grievances (Guest and Hoque, 1994) as noted in
Bratton and Gold’s model. Engage for Success (2012) suggested employers need to
align their employee voice and collective voice to encourage trust and
cooperation. They suggested it is important to involve representatives in
business discussions to address any issues.


The shift from industrial relations to
employee relations enabling the change from collective bargaining to individualism,
has encouraged importance of the employee voice. This key change has given
employers an opportunity to include workers in organisational decisions which is
a fundamental process in cultivating employee involvement, as it ultimately impacts
on business performance.