With the crisis at the top of the news, the 2020 social elections took place this month within an unusual context. The appointment of new staff representatives is always an opportunity for the dynamics of social relations within your organisation. Social dialogue is a major driver of economic life. A strong social climate is a prerequisite for business success. These ten principles help your company along the way.
The appointment of new staff representatives always creates a momentum. Establishing a sound and cooperative dynamic in your social relations is essential as it directly affects the atmosphere in the workplace but also your company’s reputation. Conversely, social conflicts, work stoppages and strikes can come at a high cost. Investing in social climate is therefore the message. At Whyte Corporate Affairs, we listed our rules of thumb to provide a solid foundation for your social relations.
Strong social relations? That is not just the work of the HR department or Social Relations Manager. This is the responsibility of the entire management team.
Make sure that, as a member of the Executive Committee, you know what is going on within employee representative bodies. It is too late to involve yourself whenever the discussions are escalating. The Executive Committee needs to define in advance the social strategy, in alignment with the company’s priorities.
Team leaders know what is going on at the work floor. They sense and identify issues that create tensions among workers. At the same time, they are important intermediaries to communicate the company vision. Help them understand the strategy and transform them into strong allies.
The most important thing of any negotiation? Detailed planning. Anticipate the questions, prepare the different scenarios, look at the possibilities within social legislation. Knowing the options is how you can manage the discussions better. You also need to pick your battles and decide in advance what are the priorities you want to discuss with the social partners.
Staff representatives might be unaware of the strategic issues and challenges your company is facing. Provide a clear overview of the market, competition and priorities. This way, you put things into perspective. It can help advance the debate on several issues.
Communicate towards the workers about the topics discussed within employee representative bodies (Works council, Union Delegation or the Committee for Prevention and Protection at Work) is not a prerogative of the staff representatives. Management has the responsibility to also assure a constant flow of information including in case of conflicts or blockages.
What is happening within your sector? What are the hot topics and how are they being handled? Maintain also contacts with trade union representatives (permanents) both inside and outside your sector. Talk to political key figures, to your Federation and their members. A solid network is a way to keep solid perspective and strengthen your capacity to negotiate.
Misunderstandings are the first reason for conflicts. Talk extensively with the employee representatives and make sure that you understand well their questions and demands. A problem can be the result of a conflict that you are not aware of, or of unfounded fears. Also take your time to explain calmly your point of view.
In times of social conflict, do not stick your head in the sand but take a step forward. Do not ignore media requests, put a face on your company, make use of informal contacts (politicians, trade unions, opinion leaders, etc.), external mediators and strategic stakeholders to get your message across. Do not hide but inform and explain the situation, without putting oil on the fire. Stay factual.
Various trade union confederations, differences between north and south of the country, scattered political ties and complex levels of power: it’s not a secret that the trade union landscape in Belgium is complex. For many executives, this is unknown territory which means that the social dialogue remains a hidden world to them. (Accelerated) training of your management team, especially when they come from abroad, is therefore an excellent investment.
Arguments, opposition and discord: it is all part of a healthy social dialogue. It takes time and can lead to frustration. Remember that stigmatisation, clichés and aggression always lead to unnecessary tension. That puts social relations under pressure. Remain correct and open-minded, however difficult the dialogue may be.