Management's Role in Non-Union Companies

The number of unionized workers in the private sector continues to diminish, with estimates of no more than a fraction of the non-governmental workforce currently unionized. To maintain a productive workforce, pulp and paper company management needs to supplant the role that unions have played. Unfortunately, there are few companies with managers trained to supplant unions. That lack of training can be a significant detriment to a company's overall well being.

In the past, the foremost role for unions was dealing with employee grievances/ complaints. Unions listened to employee grievances and then negotiated resolutions with management. In a non-unionized company, management must listen to concerns and grievances and resolve them in ways that do not cause discord.

Alternative dispute resolution

It is essential that human resource executives be expert in administering alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs. ADR programs are generally welcomed by both management and employees because they are cost effective and swiftly arrive at fair resolutions. One obstacle is management's fear of giving up its traditional power. But by involving employees, management will not be perceived as arbitrary or capricious.

The three most common ADR programs are:

Arbitration. An adjudication process during which a third party hears both sides of a dispute and renders a decision after weighing the evidence. Both sides may agree prior to arbitration that the decision will be binding or that an appeal to another body is allowed to reach a mutually acceptable decision.

Mediation. A process where a third party facilitates open and ongoing communication designed to lead to a settlement.

Peer review. A representative adjudication process that relies on a selected panel of managers and employees. A majority of the panel is required to render a binding decision.

If costs are incurred for the mediator and/or arbitrator, management and employee can agree to share the costs, or management can absorb the full costs.

Focus groups, teams, and coaching

Management at non-union plants also undertakes one of the traditional roles of unions: listening to employees. One of the best means is through focus groups, which afford management significant opportunities to obtain representative information about its workforce and their attitudes. Focus groups also permit management to communicate real issues through ongoing employee involvement.

Focus groups explore issues in a flexible manner that is part of an overall strategic plan. Such groups are an effective means for collecting valuable data. That data, when analyzed, will be essential for management making decisions that will meet the needs of employees, thus maintaining morale and productivity. The results should be published as part of management's commitment to open communication.

Focus groups lead to team building-the instruments that implement strategic plans. Historically, unions have created a sense of a team. Management can also create that spirit of solidarity. Teams can serve such purposes as the enhancement of communication and the resolution of conflicts, but they are most effective in increasing productivity and enhancing employee morale.

To create effective teams, management must clearly determine what problems it hopes to address by the formation of a team. It is also important that all levels of management support the team. Finally, it is important that teams have a selection of the right kind of people to get a job done.

An essential spur for a team's success is having an effective coach. The coach encourages employees to do better and to accomplish more, works to rehabilitate negative employee attitudes, and is not a punitive task master

Employee Advocate Representative (EAR)

Just as unions used to have shop stewards, non-unionized companies can have an employee advocate representative (EAR). The FAR position is usually a trial assignment aimed at improving morale by involving employees in a broad spectrum of management activities and decisions.

When employees want to make their concerns available to management, the EAR listens and imparts those concerns. The EAR position may or may not be salaried and exists for a limited period of time. Once a term expires, another employee is either chosen or volunteers for the EAR position.

The responsibilities of the EAR include providing input about employee issues and suggesting solutions at department meetings. The EAR may assist in promoting company communication and may play a pivotal role in assisting management with training and quality control programs, while also serving on committees dealing with employee awards and activities.

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