Management Communication and Industrial Relations

By Heather Campbell

By Heather Campbell >>

Trust and respect between managers and employees are vital components in creating good industrial relations.

Leaders who fail to foster a high level of openness, honesty and two-way dialogue can accidentally create an atmosphere of mistrust, bad feeling and anger. In some cases this can spark industrial disputes.

Traditionally, business leaders and managers lead from the front – making the critical financial and staffing decisions, then announcing the changes and leaving the staff to just ‘get on with it’.

As communication evolves and becomes more informal (social even), people feel the need to be more engaged and involved than past generations. Therefore if managers do not effectively communicate why a difficult business decision has been made – such as staff cuts or pay freezes – then employees feel frustrated and left in the dark.

Only getting half the story, employees will naturally question what is happening and why; they feel they are not looked-after or valued. On the flipside, a clear rationale for a decision – shared openly and directly – can often make the difference between acceptance and the determination to resist the change.

It’s all about respect. If managers respect their staff enough to be open and honest in the way that they communicate (this may even include the sharing of some sensitive data) then the outcome is more likely to be one of acceptance and support.

The Trust Benefit

W. Alan Randolph, in his acclaimed paper Navigating the Journey to Empowerment, studied many businesses and came to the conclusion that openness and sharing between management and staff are key drivers of successful teamwork in business, even in times of economic stress.

He warns: “Bureaucratic organisations are typically close to bankruptcy in terms of trust. As a result, people exert enormous energy trying to protect themselves… when the best way to build trust is to share information.”

When top management begin to share information about the company’s market share and growth opportunities, as well as about the competition’s strategies, employees begin to act as empowered participants.

Open Communication and Industrial Relations

An impressive example from our own client base involved the manager of a manufacturing plant in the north of England. He knew that either redundancies or pay cuts were unavoidable. Working in a highly unionised environment, he anticipated industrial action and knew that a strike would have disastrous consequences for the plant.

So he decided to try a different approach.

He called a meeting of the 150 employees at the plant and shared the full financial picture with them, explaining the consequences they faced if they continued without changes in conditions.

Instead of the barrage of abuse that he feared, the staff actually helped to put forward ideas and solutions – including pay cuts for three consecutive years to safeguard jobs. From that point on, the manager held open meetings regularly and found that industrial unrest became a thing of the past.

It’s not just a nice thing to do or a New Age management fad. Learning how to create more open lines of communication in an organisation could easily be critical to the future survival of a business.


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What do you think? Let us know if you have had similar experiences with openness and trust-building or ask us a question – every comment gets a response.


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