Union organizing approaches are more sophisticated today than in prior years. The use of the internet and social media, as well as the new type of worker (i.e., Millennials) provides an increasingly target rich environment.
Many companies depend on the once very reliable, but hackneyed use of certain initiatives to be the foundation for defeating a union campaign. While some of these initiatives, such as training supervisors and managers about unions, are still helpful, the key to preventing union initiatives is to have positive labor relations practices, where employees ultimately feel that unions are not necessary. As opposed to just training supervisors and managers about unions, I suggest the better approach is to work with them in developing a plan that defines their role in building and sustaining a positive workplace environment. Placing the emphasis on positives and how to accentuate them is key.
In almost 50 years of helping companies around the world, I have found there are certain important elements that must be part of an effective strategic plan. Some of the most important elements that must be defined, evaluated and ascertained are:
- Determining and implementing effective communication practices;
- Achieving optimum teamwork;
- Determining the extent of positive morale;
- Determining the employees’ faith in and trust of management at all levels;
- Determining the extent to which employees enjoy coming to work and why;
- Ascertaining the employees’ perspectives about whether supervisors and their practices meet their needs;
- And last, but not least, measuring whether employees believe that their overall compensation is competitive with other businesses performing the same type of work in a similarly situated industry and locale.
The key to being effectively proactive is the ability to measure the employee’s perceptions of the important criteria listed above. I have tried numerous approaches in the half century I have been working closely with management, and I have ascertained that the best way to determine whether a workplace environment is sufficient to prevent unionization, is to develop a simple strategic questionnaire of about 20 questions that allows employees to speak with management in an effective manner. This approach allows employees to feel ownership and to build stakeholdership in the process of building the right type of work environment with which they can identify. Asking employees to provide their perceptions by responding on a sliding scale to clear and precise statements, aids in the stakeholder building process. I have worked with certain questions thousands of times to determine the accuracy and meaning of the answers to those questions and have achieved a margin of error of no more than +/- 3%. A brief sample of some of these questions is:
- “I believe my work is appreciated.”
- “Overall I am satisfied working here.”
- “I feel free to express my ideas and suggestions.”
- “My wages are comparable to what other companies in this area would pay me for doing the same or similar work.”
The data from the survey answers is compared to other companies similarly situated by numerous factors, such as industry, by manufacturing/non-manufacturing, to local, regional and national norms for companies both union and non-union. In essence, all relevant norms must be considered. Thanks to the use of the internet and sophisticated computer programming, the normative analysis is not very difficult. The comparison to relative norms:
- Allows an employer to assess its vulnerability to unionization;
- Indicates the extent to which employees judge the positivity of the work environment; and
- Reveals the reasons for why certain issues exist in the workplace.
While there are many approaches to building a positive workforce environment, I suggest strongly that the first step is to ascertain all relevant facts about key employee perceptions prior to determining next steps. By following this approach, an employer has the least amount of risk and is capable of achieving its overall labor relations goals in the shortest timeframe possible. How do I know this approach works? Because I have never lost to a union in an actual or potential organizing situation in almost 50 years.
Note: In a later blog, I will detail how the strategy in this blog can apply to unionized companies to assess matters like decertification.