Can a working relationship be repaired post IR trouble?

by Stephanie Zillman21 Jun 2012

Industrial actions mean employers and employees aren’t on the same page and they can’t negotiate for any multitude of reasons. It breaks down the relationship, but depending on the magnitude – sometimes it’s all over before it starts, other times it can go on for months – it’s not impossible to repair the relationship.

The first thing employers must do is to try and restore that relationship as soon as possible in order to re-establish trust and get people back to productive work, HR consultant Linda Norman told HC. “In rebuilding trust, communication and information is the key,” Norman said. The process of restoring the relationship should begin with an explanation of what happened to all relevant stakeholders, what the outcomes have been, and what the plans are moving forward. “There’s often a lack of information in these scenarios or misinformation, or even distorted information – so getting back to the right information and giving it out as quickly and clearly as possible is extremely important,” Norman said.

In cases where Fair Work Australia or the Fair Work ombudsman has intervened in a workplace issue, and the employee then returns to work, (such as this recent case) it may be necessary to apologise. “Obviously that may be difficult to admit sometimes. But it is about information, explaining what happened, and good employers will make sure that happens to ensure that the level playing field is restored,” Norman commented.

In cases where there has been a court-imposed reinstatement, more often than not employees will not wish to return to work. Yet when these scenarios do occur, the employer has erred in their decision in the eyes of the court or Fair Work, and in these instances, apologising to the employee for the incorrect decision will be a key aspect of moving forward. “Again, it’s around sharing information and holding the right meetings with people so people are aware of what’s happened and why – and assuring staff that the same mistake wouldn’t happen again,” Norman added.


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  • by Michael Cosgrove 24/06/2012 5:28:37 PM

    Linda makes some good points. She has however missed the main one. Employers must develop a proactive communications strategy and engage directly with their employees all the time, not just during and after Industrial action. Only doing it at those points is virtually trying to shut the gate after the horse has bolted. Unions have had decades of developing their bargaining and organising strategies. Employers need to be more prepared than they are.....

  • by Tammy Tansley 25/06/2012 2:47:07 PM

    Yes, agree Michael. Employers seem to see EA negs or disputes as a one off that needs attention and communication rather than part of a holistic communications strategy. It is no wonder that employees often don't trust what is said.

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