Throughout this year’s Festival of Work conference in London, attendees heard from speakers and subject matter experts who covered today’s most talked-about HR topics. They heard about how artificial intelligence is causing a revolution in HR departments everywhere, learned tips to help manage disruption as it does, and took a deep dive into the ethical questions surrounding automation. What they didn’t hear much about, however, is a topic that’s all but vanished from the HR agenda throughout the UK: managing employee relations.

Photo: jakkaje8082 / Adobe Stock

That’s surprising since it’s a subject that plays such a vital role in effective HR administration, especially during a labour shortage like the one playing out right now. Improving employee relations, even by a tiny amount, can have a profound effect on workforce morale, overall engagement, and retention. Right now, those should be among the most important metrics HR departments track – as they can mean the difference between a business with a serious skills deficiency and one that’s flourishing, even in a tough environment.


For that reason, the topic of employee relations should be brought back to the fore by any organisation looking to gain a critical advantage over its peers. Here are two ways to do it.

Increase Training Investments

All over the UK, skills gaps are turning up in just about every part of the economy. It’s down to an ageing population and a deficiency in the number of foreign workers entering the market. You wouldn’t know that if you were to examine the statistics surrounding skills training, however. According to the most recent data, participation in skills training among adults in the UK has been on the decline in recent years, worsening the overall skills picture nationwide.


That trend also extends to HR, with more employers than ever treating CIPD certifications as the end-all-be-all measure of skills in the field. In practice, though, most HR industry professionals have now come of age working within a shared services model of HR provisioning. That means they are unlikely to have much direct employee relations experience unless that’s their specific area of expertise. For that reason, targeted skills training is in order for existing employees in almost every case.

Recruiting For Potential

Since the labour market is already tight, it’s very difficult to recruit the few available employee relations specialists that currently exist. That means it’s all but impossible for any business to simply hire candidates with the required skill sets unless they’re willing to pay a king’s ransom to do it. That doesn’t mean, however, that employee relations needs can’t be addressed through recruiting.


To do it, employers have to embrace a hiring model that prioritises potential over experience in the hard-to-recruit skills areas. By using the right data collection and analysis methodologies, as well as a potential-focused candidate screening procedure, businesses can find candidates that will grow into employee relations all-stars over time, both through on the job experience as well as through the aforementioned training initiatives. Doing this should also amplify the net effects of such training efforts because the employees going through them will be more receptive to learning valuable new skills.

Secure For The Future

Any business that makes the necessary strategy adjustments to prioritise employee relations will be better positioned to withstand the worsening labour outlook by keeping employees happy and engaged. Plus, they will have built a training and recruiting model for HR skills that will work just as well for other hard-to-find skills. That, more than anything else, will increase the business’s self-sufficiency and decrease its dependence on outside skills sources. The bottom line here is that although the HR world seems to have forgotten the value of employee relations as its attention turned to other matters, the businesses that buck that trend will be better off for it – as will the HR industry as a whole.


Founder of in 1998 and constantly strives to change peoples attitudes to the town, Brian is a self described Paisley Digital Champion who promotes Paisley via any means necessary. You can also follow me on X