7 Steps for a Sustainable Labour Relations Strategy

Having worked as a Labour Relations Expert for the past 30 years, I feel it is important to understand the critical steps in maintaining a sustainable labour relations strategy with corresponding metrics to ensure ongoing success.  Creating a positive and collaborative work environment while ensuring fairness and productivity requires a strategic approach.  Listed below are seven essential steps that I have used and shared with others to achieve a sustainable labour relations strategy.

1. Comprehensive Assessment

The initial step involves conducting a thorough review of the current labour landscape, both internally and externally. This includes evaluating existing policies, employee engagement levels, union relations, and current challenges such a workforce labour shortages. Utilize metrics to benchmark employee engagement against your previous records or other organizations to determine the best course of action. Another valuable tool is the Net Promoter Score (NPS): a single-question gauge of staff engagement that asks, “On a scale from 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this organization to a friend?” The response to this question may help guide your improvement plan.

2. Collaboration and Communication

Establishing open channels of communication is a significant undertaking, yet crucial for success. In my experience, I have leveraged communication experts and engaged the entire senior leadership and management team to develop strategies that enhance engagement with employees, labour groups, and stakeholders. A consistent organizational approach helps ensure a better understanding of everyone’s needs, concerns, and desires. Creating an inclusive environment makes staff and labour groups feel heard and valued. Communication effectiveness can be gauged through metrics such as the percentage of employee participation in town hall meetings, responses to surveys, and the number of participants in feedback sessions.

3. Policy Development and Adaptation

Crafting or adapting policies that align with legal standards, industry best practices, and employee expectations assists significantly to sustain a positive labour environment. By supporting a fair and equitable organization, these policies are transparent, fair, and inclusive, fostering a sense of security and trust among the workforce. I have used numerous strategies with the implementation of new policies, including the use of focus groups, requesting input from labour groups and monitoring compliance. Monitoring policy adherence through quantifiable metrics helps ensure the policies are being used appropriately and are making a difference. Some examples of measuring of policies include measuring compliance rates, frequency of updates, and tracking any fluctuations in employee morale or performance against policy changes.

4. Training and Development Programs

Invest in continuous learning and skill development initiatives to provide employees and management with the tools necessary to navigate evolving labour dynamics, fostering adaptability, and preventing potential conflicts. Customized education for leaders, both management and labour leaders, not only aligns practices but also serves as a team-building opportunity, enhancing understanding of differences. Drawing on my experience as a Coach at Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre, and from feedback from participants, I can affirm the cost/benefit of bringing your team together in a controlled, consistent learning environment far outweighs training individuals with different tools and programs. The ROI of such programs can be measured through increased productivity, linked to various mechanisms such as new skill development, reduced absenteeism, and improved collaboration among teams.

5. Conflict Resolution Mechanisms

Implement robust conflict resolution mechanisms by establishing procedures for addressing disputes quickly and fairly, with the goal of finding solutions that benefit all parties involved. Timely intervention can prevent escalations. Additionally, establish mechanisms for enhancing relationships with labour groups and frontline employees. Programs, such as joint labor-management meetings and focus groups to gather employee opinions, along with tracking the time taken to resolve conflicts or disputes, help monitor the labour relations climate. Setting targets for resolution and measuring against these targets ensures swift and efficient conflict resolution, contributing to the building of trust within the workplace—a key component of sustainable labour relations.

6. Regular Evaluation and Adaptation

Regularly assess the effectiveness of implemented strategies to ensure that they continue to work for the organization. Solicit feedback through surveys or focus groups, analyze outcomes, and be ready to adapt approaches based on the feedback received. Regularly analyze and compare metrics against predefined goals allowing for strategy adaptation based on the data obtained. This may involve revising policies, enhancing training programs, or refining conflict resolution processes as needed.

7. Embrace Sustainability and Social Responsibility

Integrate sustainability practices into labour relations initiatives, by building trust and implementing programs that ensure fairness and equity within the organization. Showcase a commitment to social responsibility, fair labour practices, and community engagement by implementing a diversity, equity, and inclusion program where racialized and oppressed groups are seen and treated as equal partners. This not only enhances the organizational brand but also fosters a positive work culture. Quantify the impact of social responsibility initiatives by measuring community engagement, employee volunteer hours, or carbon footprint reduction attributed to sustainability practices.

By implementing these steps, a sustainable labour relations strategy can be developed and maintained. Remember, continual refinement, measurement and adaptation are key to navigating the ever-evolving landscape of labour relations.

About the Author

Elizabeth Vosburgh’s passion for strengthening labour relations and human resources practices is informed by her experiences working in both managerial and c-suite roles, as well coaching for Queen’s IRC since 2019. She has been involved in all aspects of labour relations, from the internal grievance process to arbitration. She has led complicated negotiations, restructuring, professional practice, complex return to work, accommodation, occupational health and safety, as well as workplace restoration. She is a sought-after advisor to senior leadership teams. As a Certified Human Resources Executive (CHRE) with the HRPA, a Registered Nurse with the College of Nurses of Ontario, and a Certified Health Executive, Elizabeth applies both her practical experience along with theory to help individuals and organizations build culturally sound labour relations and human resources programs.


How Do You Determine the Best Work Model for Your Organization or Team?

Many organizations that implemented post-COVID-19 work models (remote, hybrid or in office) should be evaluating their choice regularly, to ensure that they retain their competitive advantage and continue to attract the right human resources. It is my recommendation that a review be conducted after the first six months to ensure that the model continues to support the strategic direction of the organization.

61% of Canadian organizations have moved to a hybrid work environment because this was the preferred model by many employees.[1] We know that a hybrid work environment assisted with employee engagement and made some jobs more appealing to individuals who preferred to work from home some of the time.

Fully remote work (or working from home) provides organizations with a greater geographical human resources pool to harness. Remote workers can live far away from the office, and as long as their IT systems are intact and they have high speed internet, they are productive. There is a very limited requirement to return to the office for work.[2]

When re-evaluating your model, organizations need to review several steps to determine the best model prior to making any changes. These steps must consider the organizational philosophy/ culture, rules of work including collective agreements and employee relations, and ongoing productivity.

Download PDF: How Do You Determine the Best Work Model for Your Organization or Team?



[1] Benefits Canada Staff. (2022, August 3). 61% of Canadian employers using Hybrid Work Model: Survey. Benefits Canada.com. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.benefitscanada.com/news/bencan/61-of-canadian-employers-using-hybrid-work-model-survey/

[2] Wigert, B. (2022, March 15). The future of hybrid work: 5 key questions answered with data. Gallup.com. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/390632/future-hybrid-work-key-questions-answered-data.aspx

Developing an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Program

The issue of racism and ongoing oppression of minority groups is well documented. Leadership must recognize their unconscious and implicit biases to begin to help organizations become inclusive.

Leaders who are engaged will recognize inequities and will also recognize bias as well as disrespect and incivility. By addressing these issues through education and formal programs, leaders will help foster the development of others in overcoming historic barriers to both employment and customer service.

There are also limited dedicated resources or programs that assist with equity, diversity and inclusion programs. Often programs are completed off the corner of one’s desk to obtain the check mark. Strategies are required for dedicated resources, education, as well as an acknowledgement that we must foster an environment of equity and inclusivity and become committed to listening, learning and understanding to ensure every person can work and receive care safely, openly and honestly.

Download PDF: Developing an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Program

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