Many of the conversations we have with people leaders in the organisations we work with, are about their relationships with their employees. To use formal language, these relationships are the essence of what we call Employment Relations (ER).  However, as you are likely aware, the phrase ‘Employment Relations' frequently comes with negative connotations.

ER is often seen as being about fixing a problem, adjusting undesirable behaviour or resolving a dispute of some kind. And whilst this can certainly be the case, our approach to employment relations is also focused on how to take proactive measures, centred on establishing a positive and meaningful employee-employer relationship. Sound employment policies and practices are an essential foundation in any employment relationship. But what we believe is an equally important component is the practice of having positive, pre-emptive and regular conversations with your employees. Ultimately this will strengthen your relationship, and lay the groundwork for your employees to be able to communicate easily, understand what’s required of them, and do great work.   Ralph Stacey1 summarises this well—

"Great organisations are built on great systems and structures, which are built on great relationships, which, are built by great conversations."

A not-uncommon approach to dealing with issues

Typically, organisations wait until an employee is not performing to tackle an issue or to raise concerns. Similarly, an employee will often wait to raise an issue until the time is ‘right’, instead of tackling it in the moment.  Excuses heard for not taking action are being time poor, or a desire to avoid conflict or ‘rocking the boat’.  These excuses are all relatable! However, it’s important to be aware that waiting to address even the smallest of problems can cause a drop in productivity and engagement, and, may also impact other staff negatively.

A better—and easier, way

The key is to create a culture where it is safe and normal to have two-way communication. It’s not complex or time consuming. A people leader who sets up regular one-on-ones with team members to check-in on how they are going is in a great position to stay ahead of the game, pre-empt problems and get the most from their people. This one-on-one can be an informal, relaxed meeting where the leader simply asks the employee what they are enjoying about their role and the organisation, as well as where they may be struggling or what they may need help with.  

The relationship that is created by these interactions establishes trust and a forum for ongoing dialogue, which makes the giving and receiving of feedback more commonplace.    

Establishing this routine and interaction also means that when something does go wrong, the employee and manager have already formed the foundations of trust and built good communication behaviours that will allow them  to better manage any challenging conversations.    

A good baseline

Of course, effective communication is paramount to ensuring difficult conversations are done right, and this requires interpersonal awareness, and some learned skills. Adding communication skills training for people managers and employees into your organisation is an excellent boost that will ensure this can happen.     

Guidelines for feedback

For any ER conversations, the onus is on the employer to provide the safe space, but both the employer and the employee need to show respect and engage in ‘active listening’.  To ensure feedback is delivered and received effectively, we recommend people leaders use the following feedback guidelines:

  • Be specific.   
  • Don't make it personal.   
  • Balance the negative feedback with positive feedback.   
  • Clarify expectations.   
  • Work together to create Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Time-based goals.   
  • Create space for ongoing check-ins.   
  • Be consistent and timely.   
Positive outcomes

We have seen this approach work successfully, and in such a way that Employment Relations has become primarily a positive vehicle for change, and as a result, organisational effectiveness has increased. Occasionally, the outcomes from disputes may still result in changes to the employment relationship. However, if this approach is followed, both parties can still maintain an overall feeling of positivity.   

We can help

The People Place works closely with organisations to ensure people leaders have the skills and the frameworks to manage these difficult conversations effectively, and are able to provide feedback that improves the employment relationship— and ultimately productivity and engagement.   

Please reach out if you’d like to know more, or have a particular situation we can support you with.  You can reach us by phone at +64 9 300 7224 or email

1. Ralph Stacey was a British organisational theorist and Professor of Management at Hertfordshire Business School, University of Hertfordshire. He is best known for his writings on the theory of organisations as complex responsive processes of relating.