Explore the past, present, and future of employee relations as the basis for creating stronger, more effective representation for workers in all industries. Learn how HR's role in worker representation is more critical now in light of uncertain economic conditions and digital transformation.
- The history of HR is quite lengthy and might not seem important to know, but knowledge of HR's past will help shape its future and create stronger, more effective representation for workers in all industries. So let's take a brief look at its history. How did worker representation, now called employee relations, become a thing? And why do we have worker councils, bodies, and trades unions? It's important for HR professionals to acknowledge the past, present, and future of employee relations as the basis for creating stronger, more effective representation for workers in all industries. So let's take a look at that. For over 120 years, we've had some form of bargain and negotiation around the relationship between workers and their employees. As we moved into the 1800s Industrial Revolution, large companies began to employ vast numbers of people, craftsmen and lower-skilled workers in mills and forges and on highly repetitive production lines in factories. The move from farming to factories and country to city living gave us the earliest forms of the capitalist system we now know. Wealth came from industrial strength, not the privilege of birth into the upper classes. With pressures to keep costs low, production and quality high, plus make profits, industrialists began to push people with longer hours, shortcuts on safety, and disregard for worker welfare. People would be exhausted, ill, dismissed, or even died because of poor conditions in those working environments. And so collective worker responses were needed to fight injustice through forms of protest or the ultimate withdrawal of labor. We'd now refer to them as walkouts or strikes. Employment law followed with pressure put on governments to legislate, which continues to this day. Workplace wrongdoing, such as employers discriminating against women or older workers in promotion decisions, would become punishable by law, with the state now able to prosecute businesses and owners whilst giving worker representatives legal force to back their claims of unfair treatment and conditions. This led the way to the development of initially industrial relations, what we now know as employee relations. For example, in Germany, worker councils have representation on company boards and influence key decisions affecting workers and the organization. In Asia and particularly China, employment legislation is aimed at giving workers protection, avoiding union disputes. 20th-century workplace history describes a range of industrial disputes covering working time regulations to fair pay and benefits. The 1970s and 1980s will go down as peak unionization, but this changed in the 1990s with a significant decrease of union power in the UK and USA. The decrease of union power continues to now. In the 21st century, large scale disputes are rare and often resolved through mediation and someone taking an independent view. So where has all this led us? The future for worker representation and employee relations is becoming a more complex one, with digital and robotic automation of work, new forms of worker status like self-employed agents, and a keen interest in good organizations. Unions, worker councils, and employee relations will be an even more interesting area of the elements of a collaborative organization. Potentially, we have never needed committed employee relations practitioners more than ever with the challenges of the future of work, nor have individuals had so many options to represent their interests, perhaps not needing formal worker representation. A new form of employee relations may be upon us.
Note: This course is the first in a LinkedIn Learning series aligned with the “People Practice” core knowledge area of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).