In the changing phase of industrial relations and the increasing potential for conflict in industry, the field of IR needs to reinvent itself and face the present situations.
Let me first start by defining the role of Industrial Relations (IR) managers. In order to be efficient, they need to be specialists with a high degree of professional integrity. They should have the ability to deal with heterogeneity, manage business risks and also create emotional engagement.
Is that too much to ask for? Not exactly. This job demands such expertise. In the absence of such proficiency, the overall practice of industrial relations cannot undergo transformation. The problem with the current practice is that it’s more reactionary than proactive, when it should actually be the other way around.
In my experience, certain proactive industrial relations practices will ensure a good work environment in the organisation.
For instance, we need to implement formal systems and regulations to objectively manage the employees’ affairs. In addition, we need to formulate appropriate conduct and disciplinary regulations. This will not only protect employers’ rights but also promote employee involvement and commitment.
We need to maintain an efficient internal communications system, which is not only regular but also open and two-way.
Understanding and entrenching pluralistic thought in industrial relations is another key factor.
Therefore, we need to focus on the following:
Proactive approach: In the changing phase of industrial relations and with the increasing potential for conflicts, the field of IR needs to reinvent itself to handle the present challenging situations. The cost of conflict resolution in industry is huge. Proactiveness is the need of the hour. The proactive approach seeks to prevent conflict rather than wait to deal with it when it arises. Efficient internal communication in the organisation is an important part of proactive industrial relations.
Problem solving: Critical analysis was used as a tool to develop a proactive IR model for future study of the discipline. Conclusively, the practice of industrial relations needs to be transformed to be proactive rather than reactive.
Culture building: A powerful approach to build employee involvement and commitment is through process-based role analysis and design, involving the employee himself along with the boss, subordinates and concerned peers. This creates the agreed expectations from roles and at the same time identifies the competencies required for good performance in the role.
Developing line IR managers: There is an understanding that conflict can arise in industrial relations and efforts should be made towards preventing conflicts and solving them when they arise. In fact, the environment should be so built that there is no chance of conflicts arising.
Strict legal compliance: To be preferred employers, we should be on the right side of the (Labour) laws applicable to the business or unit.
Here are some of the follies that we commonly make:
1. Looking at short-term solutions to problems
2. Acting without thinking
3. Not having our finger on the pulse of the employee(employer-employee disconnect)
4. Being unaware of grey areas
5. Meddling with union affairs
6. Taking an “irreversible” stand
7. Developing perceived Management Union
8. Making helplessness evident
9. Discouraging dialogue / negotiation
10. Developing a vengeful attitude
11. Concealing ground realities from seniors
A good industrial relations officer will help build trust, and prepare a transparent and sound IR policy/programme based on human engineering.
Hence, IR / ER managers have to ensure that their policies are transparent and based on performance, thereby enhancing human value, employee participation and satisfaction, leading to a team spirit.
It goes without saying that the effective management of industrial relations will continue to remain high on the priority list in the coming years. It is important for not just ‘doing well,’ but also for the survival of both, the organisation as well as the employees .
(The author is general manager – HR, UltraTech Cement, Aditya Birla Group.)