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Elizabeth T. 22.09.2020 5 min read

You Want Me To Make More Promises to Improve Employee Relations?

The promise is one of humankind’s most primitive psychological mechanisms that fosters trust, cooperation, and partnership formation. Creating healthy employee relations involves building trust between management and team. A AI-powered pre-employment assessment (cough) may assist in team building, but employee relations play an important role in creating cooperative agreements. You could say employee relations is a promise in action: acknowledging and making the vowed effort to deliver. 

One study found that when making promises, our brains light up in a particular way. This unique brain activation pattern gives us the skill to discriminate dishonesty from honest people. When an employee or manager associates a broken promise with a person, there is increased activity in the brain that is known to process cognitive control and conflict. In employee relations, listening to different people is a must. Following-up with action---the promise---is how trust is built. 

But first, what is employee relations?

pre-employment assessment

Employee relations’ (ER) refers to the relationship between employers and employees. ER focuses on building and maintaining the individual and collective relationships in the workplace, particularly the relationships between managers and team members. It’s a wide-range job, covering the practical aspects of work relationships, like contracts and policies. It also involves the emotional and mental aspects of relationship building, like mental health.  

From the side of the company, employee relations is how the company---via the HR team--addresses challenges and concerns. Programs and/or policies are usually formed, like providing a child care stipend for parents working from home. Employee relations falls under the umbrella of advanced processes of HR

Employee relations remain essential to organizational performance. By taking care of employees and ensuring they feel good on their teams and in their workspace, this means increased employee morale and productivity and decreased employee turnover. As the heart and brain of every organization, employer-employee relations must be made a priority. 

What kinds of issues does employee relations address? Again, it can be quite the range when it comes to running an effective HR process. 

  • Continually fails to follow-up with a customer and seems to never get work done
  • Gets into an altercation with a colleague
  • Tends to ignore their hygiene where it affects their team
  • Uses company internet and/or equipment to view sexually explicit material 
  • Uses company equipment for personal reasons
  • Does not perform during their probationary or training period
  • Works overtime without receiving permission from a manager
  • Does not have proper time management skills  
  • Has a series of unscheduled (and unexplained) absences from work
  • Arrives tardy for work meetings regularly 
  • Pushes their own religious and/or political beliefs onto their team members

How to address these scenarios? 

First, do the practical.

pre-employment assessment

Digitize and document. Companies should be documenting these issues, storing them in a central repository, so information and data is available to hiring and HR managers. This may sound obvious, but some companies don’t reliably centralize information from employee relations. By better documenting and investing scenarios, employees gain trust in their management to take matters seriously. 

By documenting these scenarios, employee relations already provides a fundamental function. By simply documenting, investigating, and exploring complaints or concerns, organizations improve their employees' trust, job satisfaction, intentions to stay, sense of loyalty to their team, and improve overall job performance. 


Second, make a promise

pre-employment assessment

This may seem a bit unexpected in the hiring and recruitment process. But the science shows that making and keeping promises can be one way to show employees you care. When employees submit a complaint or a concern they’re experiencing with a customer or colleague, they should be able to trust HR will look into the matter. 

Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He studies prosocial behavior in ways fascinating and a little unnervingly manipulative, of necessity. In a recent lecture he recounted that people tend to evaluate one another in two general dimensions: how interpersonally warm we seem to be, and how competent we seem to be. His latest work suggests that the way to deliver on both without going overboard on effort is to make promises.

The researchers asked people to recall promises kept, broken, and exceeded. People were less happy when someone broke a promise than when they kept it, but, again, exceeding the promise didn't create a big gain. At least, not one that was of the same magnitude as the damage of breaking a promise. "Breaking a promise was bad," Epley essentially reiterated. "Exceeding a promise? Meh. Not that much better than just keeping it."

Epley highlights how keeping a promise is an “action with moral implications. Keeping a promise is prosocial”. It illustrates to the employee or manager that you’re an upstanding, trustworthy person. When you break a promise, the person views you as selfish---a trait that shouldn’t be associated with any HR manager or effective HR process. 

So, do you make promises in employee relations? 

pre-employment assessment

Promises are a great, prosocial strategy to build trust and rapport. After all, you receive the fairness premium in addition to building a strong reputation. T?  Should HR managers be trained to say “promise me” when assuring employees or managers about an employee issue? It seems like a simple way to create stronger relationships. Is it so simple?

Epley points out the practical: promises are a risky strategy. The behavioral science professor emphasises “make the promises you can keep, but you don't need to exceed them. Just do what you say you'll do."

This seems simple enough. Do what you say you’re going to do. For hiring managers or junior team members, this may be a helpful way to signal to an employee you’re doing the best you can. You may want to double check whether you can accomplish a task, like delivering a pre-employment assessment online or giving a development stipend, before promising. Employee relations gears itself towards employee engagement and retention. Since employee engagement and retention measures how invested employees are in a company and their satisfaction, a kept promise can be a small, but effective way to accelerate trust. 


Leading companies leverage Retorio's AI to support their own talent management teams. Our video-based AI was featured in TechCrunch and Süddeutsche Zeitung .

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