Employee relations strategy defines the intentions of the organization about what needs to be done and what needs to be changed in the ways in which the organization manages its relationships with employees and their trade unions. Like all other aspects of HR strategy, employee relations strategy will take account of the business strategy and will aim to support it. Generally, support will be provided if employee relations operate in a spirit of mutuality and partnership, and if this results in high levels of trust, cooperation and, ultimately, productivity.
A more particular example: if the business strategy is concentrated on achieving competitive edge through innovation and the delivery of quality to its customers, the employee relations strategy may emphasize processes of involvement and participation, including the implementation of programmes for continuous improvement and total quality management. If, however, the strategy for competitive advantage, or even survival, is cost reduction, the employee relations strategy may concentrate on how this can be achieved by maximizing cooperation with the unions and employees and by minimizing detrimental effects on those employees and disruption to the organization.
Employee relations strategies should be distinguished from employee relations policies. Strategies are dynamic. They provide a sense of direction, and give an answer to the question ‘How are we going to get from here to there?’ Employee relations policies are more about the here and now. They express ‘the way things are done around here’ as far as dealing with unions and employees is concerned. Of course they will evolve but this may not be a result of a strategic choice. It is when a deliberate decision is made to change policies that a strategy for achieving this change has to be formulated. Thus if the policy is to increase commitment, the strategy could consider how this might be achieved by involvement and participation processes.