Ten Questions That Must Be Asked about an Agency’s Labor and Employee Relations Program (Part One)

There is a critical connection between day to day supervision and labor and employee relations success. How managers view labor and employee relations is also essential to their success. Supervisors who don’t get it, usually don’t get ahead.

Peter F. Drucker said, “Management by objective works – If you know the objectives.  90% of the time you don’t”. 

There is a critical connection between day to day supervision and labor and employee relations success.  How managers view labor and employee relations is also essential to their success.  Supervisors who don’t get it, usually don’t get ahead. When Agencies promote to supervision from within, ways must be found to ensure that the person’s expectations of labor and employee relations in the new assignment match up with the Agency’s vision and not necessarily the view from an employee perspective. The job of labor and employee relations policy makers, program managers and advisors is to make both labor and employee relations relevant and above all useful tools to the leadership workforce.

In this article (Part 1 and Part 2) we’ll look at 10 questions that will help in assessing whether or not labor and employee relations programs are making that critical connection with line management. At the end of Part 2, we’ll take a look at some suggestions for building a stronger relationship with line management.

Question One: Are Employee & Labor Relations part of the supervisor’s every day “landscape?

The day to day business of labor relations, meetings, discussions, changes should be as routine as evaluating performance, approving time and leave and other such chores.  In employee relations, are supervisors and managers comfortable with the discipline and performance process?  Is EAP regularly used?  For the supervisor, labor and employee relations should be a seamless whole.  They should know when and where to get help but not be solely reliant on a human resources advisor to get any routine LR or ER matter addressed.

Question Two: Are Labor & Employee Relations seen as programs or problems?

Program management usually involves clear steps to success and predictable consequences.  Problems are frequently orphans.  Despite my frequent misgivings about  the way the Federal Labor Relations Authority sees its role, the case law of both FLRA and the Merit Systems Protection Board provide a cookbook for resolving issues without finding yourself on the losing side of a case.  While you shouldn’t expect a supervisor to be Emeril Legasse when dealing with a complex information case, handling a formal discussion or investigative meeting should be as easy as boiling water.  Some indicators of  managerial sophistication are the number of bypass or change without notice charges are filed having some merit; whether management staff meetings address LR & ER issues routinely, and the ease with which a supervisor documents leave and attendance problems and proposes addressing them.

Question Three:  What level of confidence do supervisors and managers have in their own ability to resolve day to day issues?

Supervisors and managers should know at a minimum who represents the employees they manage and what is expected from them as a result of that representation.  They should be able to apply a conceptual framework consistent to the approach the Agency has developed to resolve daily issues.  Provisions of the labor agreement and other essential policies (performance planning and evaluation, awards, etc.) should not come as surprises when it’s time to apply them.  Your “culture” should encourage advance consideration of policy and consistency in its application.

Questions Four: Is the Manager-Advisor communication loop effective in both directions?

Telling supervisors how to do things and what’s going on in either labor or employee relations is essential but at the same time isn’t enough.  Supervisors know things that the rest of management doesn’t.  How good are we at gathering that information and identifying trends? Is there a forum in your organization for supervisors to talk with each other about labor and employee relations issues.  You owe it to organizational leadership to let them know what’s going on so they can make informed decisions.

Question Five: Do our policies read more like regulations than how-to books?

Policies and regulations serve an important purpose, let them.  Practical guides and tools that implement the policies are more important.  People who apply policy should write the guides.  People who draft disciplinary letters every day should lead this effort.  The most common employee problem relates to attendance.  Does your organization have a desk top handbook that walks a supervisor through the steps of correcting attendance problems?  How about a script for a counseling session?  We’re advising on these issues over and over.  A “Read This Before You Call Me” guide might save both of you a lot of time and effort.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

As always, the ideas expressed here are mine.

I’d like to thank everyone who commented on the article dealing with the use of discipline in selections. Comments were interesting and thought provoking.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.