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Avoiding union conflict

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Despite the significant reform we’ve witnessed to the Employment Tribunal system, employers still need to build better employee relationships to avoid potentially hazardous conflict with unions.

With recent changes to the Employment Tribunal system, you may be forgiven for thinking that the tide of employment litigation is turning; but employers could still face another hurdle from resurgent unions.

Trade unions now offer a complete legal service, covering employment and personal injury claims. This, coupled with continued economic uncertainty and conflict over low pay awards, is restoring the attractiveness of union membership. In recent times, I’ve witnessed at close hand both a rise in disputes and a growing appetite for conflict rather than cooperation on matters of pay, changes to terms and conditions, hours of work, redundancies and pensions reform.

As we emerge from recession, employers must consider how they communicate, engage and motivate employees. Your workforce may well have been through multiple redundancy exercises and be running low on good will. Many may still suffer 'survivor syndrome' - demonstrated by higher absence, low-level conflict, cynicism and poor morale.

It's time to initiate change through your normal structures of communication and representation to refresh the atmosphere and re-energise your workforce. Here’s six steps you can take to help you get started.

  1. Develop a communication plan. If your employees don’t know where you are going they won't be willing to help you get there
  2. Find out what your workforce is thinking. How well do your communications channels work both upwards and downwards?
  3. Deal with poor performance and absenteeism fairly and sympathetically - failure to do so will discourage committed employees
  4. Invest in training for everyone, but particularly soft skills for managers - to increase motivation and morale.
  5. Involve people by communicating and listening to what they say. Managers should be trained in these techniques
  6. Consider specialist mediation for stubborn grievances.

Attend EEF's Managing Employee Relations events for expert advice in how to re-motivate and re-engage with your workforce – contact us for more information.


This person has now left EEF. Please contact us on 0808 168 1874 or email us at enquiries@eef.org.uk if you have any questions.

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