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Why your company’s HR department must manage the complexities of employee relationships now

Posted by Celene Robert

May 4, 2021

As much as we like to think that we can easily build a successful company through the strength of our idea and talent alone, the truth is that business is a team sport. In 2017, an HP survey of 1,000 U.S. office employees from ages 18 to 65 found that 56% reported spending more time with their so-called work families than with their own families, illustrating the importance of amicable relationships at work. Further, respondents reported that having a familial relationship with co-workers increased their engagement and sense of well-being.

This study and others consistently point to the importance for employers of managing workplace relationships, a process formally known as employee relationship management. Through the process of ERM, employers foster good relationships between individual employees and the organization as well as among co-workers.

Why does emotional relationship management matter at work?

The goal of ERM is to increase productivity by creating a workplace in which staff have positive relationships with one another and with their employer. Workers should also gain a sense of pride about the jobs they perform. 

Whether it’s on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, the aim is to ensure employee engagement, success and satisfaction while on and off duty. This can be achieved without compromising individual rights or subjecting the organization to costly injury claims or public relations issues.

The outsized role of HR in the success of ERM

HR has changed from being a facilitator of collaboration between various departments to increasingly being the corporate guardian of employee well-being. The days when HR could simply manage employee records and benefits are behind us. Now, HR must be a strategic partner in business transformation. Businesses, particularly large ones, have a lot on their plates and it's easy for employee satisfaction to slip through the cracks. 

Companies are also recognizing the benefits of integrating employee experience management into their overall talent management strategy overseen by HR. Consider that potential new hires are apt to be deterred by a company with unfriendly relations. 

However, working with people is messy and complicated. No algorithm exists for managing employee relationships, even though they are critical to a successful business. Without the right people, your dream team might dissolve into an unhappy mess. But how do you manage these relationships when things go awry, whether it's because of personality clashes or conflicting visions? Here are some tips to help you improve employee engagement and satisfaction.

ERM strategies that work

So how do you ensure the right working environment for every member in your team? Below is an overview of how HR should manage workplaces relationships to maximize employee engagement and productivity.

  1. Onboarding:

    No longer viewed as a practice aimed at reducing turnover in the ranks, onboarding can make a big difference when it comes to establishing your work culture. The process can be used to help bring employees into that new mindset without requiring a scary change. Onboarding is also key to the emotional development of new employees as it helps bring a positive frame to the workplace.

  2. Introducing cross-functional teams of employees:

    By introducing CFTs that span various departments, HR teams can offer opportunities to improve communication across the organization. Teams comprising diverse members from various groups who have never worked together join forces on a common goal. The process often sparks interesting ideas, and employees begin to appreciate one another’s perspectives as well as their different strengths.

  3. Facilitating social interactions:

    Promoting informal conversation through potlucks, happy hour, Zoom trivia sessions or the like bolsters networking among groups who might not otherwise have met. 

  4. Holding team-building events:

    What better way could there be to promote working together in sync? Another outcome is that employees’ confidence and trust in one another is bolstered. It also encourages people to step out of their familiar zone and to meet new people. Pictionary, go-karts and board games are a few examples employed by some offices to encourage sharing to reach common goals.

  5. Supplying employees with communication tools:

    Communication helps create a sense of community in an office, and one of the best ways of building community is using social networking services. Cloud-based messaging tools such as Skype, Microsoft Teams and Slack let even far-flung employees connect any time as well as share files and photos. 

  6. Developing a workplace that is supportive of staff:

    Research has found that employees who feel valued and appreciated are more productive overall and are more likely to contribute positively to the company’s success. Building this sort of culture is why companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google last if they do. A positive work environment fosters inclusivity and has firm policies against bullying and harassment. 

  7. Professional development

    : There’s been a lot of hype about the growth of remote teams and how they make companies more productive. But there are some very valid reasons why you should introduce professional development opportunities at your business. For example, employees who have access to training or development programs are up to 40% more engaged than those without opportunities like these. Seminars and companywide training sessions are just two examples of professional development that help members work side by side.

ERM for vertical employee relationships

A vertical relationship is one where there is a hierarchical power dynamic in play, such as between a manager and their employees. As a manager, you are responsible for ensuring that your employees are performing in the most efficient and productive way possible. To a large extent this again hinges on emotional relationship management put in place by the manager, supervisor or team lead.

Tried-and-true tips on managing your employee-manager relationships well:

  • Start with the right attitude
  • Give employees opportunities to grow
  • Implement a performance review system that works
  • Manage your time well so you can focus on employees
  • Communicate effectively to manage your vertical relationships
  • Show your appreciation
  • Know exactly what you want from them
  • Be available to answer questions and solve problems directly rather than delegating the tasks to someone else, or worse yet, ignoring them completely (this is a big one).

ERM experts say organizations need to watch out for these dumb management mistakes:

Equally illuminating to the ERM practices you should be implementing are those you need to avoid. These are the ones unlikely to build powerfully motivating employee relations. 

10 management practices that mess up relationships with employees:

  1. Adding another level of hierarchy, assuming more supervision will get better results.

  2. Not giving clear expectations to employees, then asking why they failed.

  3. Soliciting ideas and suggestions, then never following up.

  4. Asking employees for feedback after you’ve made a decision.

  5. Providing individual appraisals and bonuses, then lamenting staff can’t work as a team.

  6. Scolding everyone rather than directly dealing with the few needing reprimand

  7. Treating people like they are untrustworthy.

  8. Expecting employees to do everything perfectly the first time.

  9. Letting a person fail when you had information that could have helped but didn’t share.

  10. Making every task a priority so employees come to believe there are none.

Difficult people add another layer of complexity to ERM

Difficult people exist in every workplace. They may have excellent skills, yet their personality makes dealing with them particularly tricky. If you are part of HR, a manager or a leader of any form you need to know how to deal with these difficult people. Dealing with challenging people on your team is an important part of your job, and the way you handle such individuals will have a ripple effect across the business as part of overall ERM.

ERM as applied to common “difficult” workplace personalities:


This person tends to keep to themselves, which can give off the impression that they are bored or aloof. In terms of employee relationship management, your role is to ensure they have the resources they need so they can succeed as a part of that team. Avoid pressuring them; instead take advantage of situations where they seem more open and approach them at those times.


This person sometimes takes the fun so far that they are on occasion disruptive of others’ workflow. Address this person directly and provide constructive feedback. Let them know a fun atmosphere is fine if it facilitates productivity and doesn’t introduce chaos and frustration.

Negative Nancy.

The chronic complainer can quickly affect workplace morale and productivity if not addressed. The best strategy is to have a private conversation with the individual as they may not even be aware how they are coming across. Challenge their point of view in a tactful way and accent the positive when you interact with them.


It’s all about them all the time, meaning they are the opposite of a team player. If the narcissist is extremely skilled, it may be worthwhile coming up with ways to minimize their interaction with other employees altogether. But by appealing to their pride or in a way that boost their ego, you may be able to motivate them to stay on task in a way that benefits the entire team rather than just them personally. 

ERM Recap:

You don’t have to be an HR guru to understand the importance of ERM. Common sense implies that happy workers are productive workers, and productive workers keep the business running smoothly. By following the recommended practices, and avoiding the outlined counterproductive management practices, you can maintain the engaged workforce that is they’re essential to your company’s success. Successful employee relationship management helps you get a pulse on your workers and how they feel about your company and contributes to the bottom line. 


Celene Robert
Celene Robert

Celene heads up the marketing at Escalon. Passionate about helping companies grow their business, she spends her days finding new ways to bring essential business services to startups, SMBs, and growth-minded companies. Based in the PNW, she’s the proud owner of 8 pairs of Birkenstocks and a sassy, cuddly cat.

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