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Today's crisis calls for a new approach

The industrial relations environment in the UK is the worst its been in my living memory. Sadly, the conflict predicted in our ER survey last year has materialised. We will re-run the survey with our ER network again next month and hope we can start to see some more positive signs.

Back to do you get an agreement on pay in today’s economic climate with inflation running at over 10% and predicted to get higher? I have to admit to being slightly relieved that I am not having to do that this year.

The bigger disputes are played out in the media, on TV, in tweets, on Instagram. Sound bites and comments, often to rile the “other party”, restate a position but are rarely, it seems, aimed at genuinely helping to solve the problem – how to reward employees fairly in the context of high inflation, rising energy prices and threats of changes to employment law. Twitter is communication not a substitute for managing.

While watching the news, we don't really know what is going on behind the scenes. But we do know that someone in the negotiations will have been given a mandate from their leaders (or the Government) and told to get an agreement. In this climate, it’s an impossible task. Throw in today’s report on executive pay - another story seen as "have's and have nots" - and you have another banana skin to slip on. I can only see a worsening siutation with more employees taking action, more anti-union/anti-employee legislation, more polarisation and more conflict. Does it have to be like this?

Today’s crisis requires a different approach – one that builds trust not one that alienates employee from employer, unions from employer.

I want to be on a train driven by someone who loves their job; I want my Mum to be looked after by a nurse or doctor who is proud to work for the NHS and feels respected at work; I want my godson to be taught by someone at University whose passion for their role shines through and they pass this on to the next generation.

Senior leaders need to own this problem. Many are too far removed from the daily life of their employees and need to really listen to what its like from an employee’s perspective. Many don’t understand the role of unions – it would help if they did. A senior manager once said to me, "I don't like my union rep. Can you get me a different one?". I explained to him that it doesnt work like that. Some managers feel a sense of disloyalty when union reps have a different view of life or dont agree with them. Get over it. That's what they are there for. Learn to work with them.

I'm not saying its easy, it takes time and it takes trust. Senior leaders need to really listen. Don’t put their ER or operational leaders in a room with a negotiating mandate of inflation minus… and expect them to work miracles. From what I hear and from my experience, senior leaders don’t spend enough time really talking to employees and their union reps but I believe they have to. They need to roll their sleeves up and be creative, innovative, reforming and work out what it is going to take to rebuild trust, build good jobs, build pride and take into account the current problems their employees are facing. Genuinely ask their ideas on how to resolve the problems and be prepared to share any benefits.

Spend your money on increasing understanding and solving problems rather than building a project office to work up battle plans for when it goes wrong or getting advice on the best tweet to wind up your unions and therefore your employees. When your recognised union is on strike remember these are your employees on strike.



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