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Talking about industrial relations


A few weeks ago, I put myself well out of my comfort zone. I did a live TV interview with Angela Rippon about industrial relations. I have never done anything like that before. They said it would be just five minutes, I could handle that. I was very nervous. I took advice – should I do it? Who did I know who could help me on technique? I prepared a lot. I kept sticking post-its all over my desk and screen. I cleaned the kitchen to distract myself. I kicked my partner out of the house. I was ready. My mouth dried up and I couldn’t drink any more water. I was too hot. The format was different to what they said, it was more like 20 minutes. I survived it. I felt good.


I haven’t played it back but my impression was that I remained calm and professional. With hindsight, I think that was my main goal.


But, now I’ve have time to reflect on it. I’ve been kicking myself for not saying this clearly, not saying that at all, not thinking they would ask me that question. I focused so much on staying calm, breathing, looking in control that I didn’t really land my key points. I waffled. I said “um” too much. I am now being very over critical.


But I am determined to learn something from this. It was never going to be perfect. It was the first time so I will get better. If there is a next time, my key points will be clearer and I will nail them.


So, these are the points I really wanted to make clearly about industrial relations:


  • Conflict is a part of working life;

  • Employees and employers have different perspectives on many issues – it’s a fact so why are we surprised when they fall out;

  • Industrial conflict is in the news and disputes are going up but from a very low base;

  • No-one takes strike action on a whim, these are costly decisions, not taken lightly and there will have been opportunities to resolve along the way;

  • The media seem to forget that unions are made up of employees. So, in a strike, the employer isn’t fighting “the union”, they are fighting their own employees;

  • Industrial relations is only in the news when things go wrong. Unions and companies are resolving problems all the time and reaching agreements but no-one is interested in that;

  • Why does IR become about personalities so quickly?;

  • Industrial relations is a high risk item on the risk register in many organisations but where is the investment in IR?

  • Many companies don’t invest in good IR. They don’t invest in the skills and capabilities of their managers, HR or their union reps;

  • We encourage organisations to invest in ER/IR to mitigate risk, build positive ER cultures and build relationships that will withstand conflict and uncertainty.

  • See ER like a long term relationship, invest in it, keep talking, understand what is working or not working. Don’t wait until you want a divorce and there is no going back.


That’s what I meant to say.

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