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10 Key Skills Required in Employee Relations

Shalie Reich
Shalie Reich

HR Consultant and Writer

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Employee using the skills needed for a role in employee relations

Employee relations is a human resource function that focuses on maintaining positive employer-employee relationships. These relationships contribute to greater productivity, morale and motivation by dealing with misconduct appropriately, analyzing performance, and evaluating how new team members fit into the company culture.

Employees who feel valued, and that their voice is heard, are 4.6 times more likely to feel they can perform their best work. So, if you’re interested in a career in employee relations, you must possess a variety of skills and strengths. Keep reading to see if you have the employee relations skills needed for a career in human resource management and customer service.

1. Analytical skills

Employee relations specialists are the link between employers and employees, which means they need to have strong analytical skills to assess workplace situations, evaluate information and draw accurate observations. For example, when five of 30 employees in an organization submit resignation letters in a period of six months, the specialist must analyze the reasons behind the resignations. If the reason for the resignation points to an unhappy workforce, the HR specialist must develop effective solutions, such as offering career coaching, counseling and support services.

2. Communication skills

An effective communication framework in the workplace contributes to healthy employee relationships and staff relations. Being an employee relations specialist, it’s your duty to use your communication abilities to ensure an efficient flow of information throughout the company, right from the office cleaners, through the middle management, and into the company’s top executives.

For example, when junior employees need a change of workplace policies, you must put your speaking or writing skills to work to convey the information to senior managers through phone calls or emails. So, take the time and improve your communication skills to truly succeed.

3. Negotiation skills

Employer–employee agreements are part of an organization’s lifeblood. In the case of employees asking for a pay raise, an organization’s management may accept the request and propose an improved remuneration package. If employees turn down the offer because it doesn’t meet their benchmark, the employee relations specialist steps in and uses their negotiation skills to find a solution that is acceptable to both parties. They can create a committee comprising representatives from both parties and lead them into an agreement.

Another example is when a company wants its employees to sign performance contracts, but employees reject the proposal, the relations specialist might use their negotiation tactics to consult with top managers and come to an agreement that all parties accept.

4. Interpersonal skills

Employment relations specialists in management positions need strong interpersonal skills to interact and maintain good relationships with other employees. When investigating a worker who violates an organization's regulations, for instance, you’ll use your interpersonal and investigative abilities to uncover the truth without damaging relations with the worker. They also use conflict resolution skills to resolve differences between workers that might affect the efficiency of the organization.

5. Collaboration

A different word used for collaboration is teamwork; in employee relations, it’s important to have this skill, as most of your job requires interaction with others to collaboratively come to an understanding. At the end of the day, you’re working with an employee (or even the employer) to come up with a preferred solution for both parties. In order to be an effective, you’ll want to ensure you sharpen your collaboration skills and always work together. 

6. Decision-making skills

In this role, you’ll need to make important decisions every day. You may not be the ultimate deciding factor when it comes to disciplining or firing an employee, but you’ll make decisions none the less. If you’re in the middle of a case investigating multiple views of the same situation from multiple employees, you’ll have to rely on your decision-making skills to get you through. You’ll need to be prepared for the executives or managers requesting your opinion and recommendations on how to proceed. Be prepared for those conversations and keep practicing those decision-making skills — no matter what!

7. Innovation

As an employee relations specialist or manager, you’ll need to think outside of the box and come up with new and innovative ways to accomplish the same goal. Through innovation, you’ll project future needs of the organization’s HR process and provide recommendations for improvement. You want to be prepared for a situation before it occurs, instead of running around with your hair on fire when it does. There may not be massive changes required at your organization, but there’s always something to be improved upon!

8. Time management

When it comes to employee relations, you’ll wear a lot of hats. Without time management, you won’t be successful at any of the tasks you’re responsible for. You can’t juggle an employee’s case while creating innovative ways to improve the system at the same time — it’s just not possible. You’ll want to practice managing your time by prioritizing issues from most important to least important, then you’ll allocate the right amount of time for each task. Your time will be limited, so do what you can to make the best use of your time daily.

9. Leadership

It all comes down to support in employee relations and improving your leadership skills will keep you headed in the right direction. You may not be directly supervising any employees, but you can still provide a positive influence on all employees, which will add to your success. With good leadership qualities, you can inspire people, cast vision, and motivate people along the way. It’s your job to ensure employees are working towards a common goal while bringing out the best in them through your leadership style.

10. Empathy

A vital skill in any career (but employee relations specifically) is empathy. As an employee relation specialist or manager, you’ll face issues from employees that you may not fully understand without empathy. Allow yourself to fully comprehend what your employees are saying as you put yourself in their shoes. Possessing the skill of empathy will allow you to see the other side of the story and share in the feelings and frustrations of employees. Empathy truly makes you a more effective leader. With some polished empathy skills, it will allow you to continually be successful at your organization.

Key takeaways

This role is truly a balancing act, day in and day out. You’ll have to balance representing workers’ interests and promoting the company’s goals and objectives and having these competencies and skills will help you greatly. Remember these things when it comes to skills required to be a successful employee relations team member:

  • Put yourself in your employees’ shoes when you’re trying to better understand where they are coming from.
  • Be a leader daily, even if it’s not part of your title, still focus on leading.
  • It’s impossible to have too much effective communication skills. Practice your communication and keep practicing!
  • Be creative when it comes to thinking of solutions and problem solving.

Don’t get overwhelmed with the list of skills listed above; focus on polishing the skills you already have and maybe add a few from the list. Don’t give up if working in this area is your dream!

Are you interested in working in employee relations? What skills do you think are important to be successful in this role? Let us know in the comments!


This is an updated version of an article originally published on 16 May 2014 and contains contributions by Alison Green.