Industrial Relations is not everybody’s cup of tea.
Industrial relations is one of the most important function of Human Resource; however, it was always ignored by organizations. The old generation who handled the IR in factories are not able to come out from their conventional mindset. They believe on compliance, negotiations. When any workman comes to them, their first reaction is denial. After globalization and during good times (from 2000 to 2007), the more focus was on hiring, training & engaging workmen. Due to attrition, focus on building IR skill set got ignored. The hardcore HR professional took the charge and missed the important aspect of future IR challenges. After 2007, when great recession started, the insecurity among blue collar workmen lead forming unions in organizations. Even the debate started on if Software Engineer is workman or not. The old school of thought forgot that the workmen demography what they used to handle (in 1970 & 1980s) has changed dramatically.
The old school of thought which includes IR professionals are professionals who are in 50 & 60s now. They are reactive and their focus is on compliance, discipline, negotiations, labour laws, entitlement etc. The new generation who came in HR in during 2000 to 2007, mainly worked in HR handling reactive recruitment, coordinating trainings, policies etc. They were not inclined to work in difficult circumstances like handling union and participating in collective bargaining. Old school of thought IR professionals never developed their subordinates in hardcore IR. They never allowed to participate in negotiations. They kept the exposure of IR with themselves. Subordinates used to work only on data and preparing minutes of meeting. That is the reason HR professionals are lacking the skill sets in handling unions and workmen on shop-floor. There are professionals, who leave the organization when settlement is in progress and joined where the settlement is already done… by every three – four years they keep moving & taking credit of settlements.
IR professionals with old school of thought were not much relied on labour lawyers. They know minute details of Labout Laws. They used to take the help of lawyers & consultants only in domestic enquires and court cases. However missing HR dimensions of IR.
New generation of IR professionals are fully dependent on lawyers and consultants which is creating lot of internal issues. If you observe incidents happened last few years, you will see the inability of management and IR professionals of creating conducive atmosphere for negotiations. Sometimes even paying unreasonably more during negotiations.
The new generation of workmen is technology savvy, they are more connected than IR professionals and they come to know what’s happening in other organizations. They have high expectations and ready to learn new things, if they are convinced properly. You can't threaten them by punishment. At other side companies are in different mindset. Digitization, automation, flexibility, cost, productivity and profit are on their day to day agenda.
The word is changing fast…few dimensions should be considered…
- Attitude towards job security is changing, there are no permanent employment but organizations are putting efforts on employability…
- Employers wants more with minimum resources, but believe on engaging right talent,
- Employers are putting more efforts in building capabilities among employees,
While above dimensions are more prominent, IR professionals should come out from their conventional mindset. They need to take pro-active approach. I have not yet heard any written IR vision and strategy. The approach is always reactive and nobody would like to engage workmen and line managers how they would like to handle the IR scenario in their organization irrespective of having union or not.
IR professional (or HR managers handling IR) should change the mindset on difference mindset. I have elaborated this in following table.
I believe IR needs specific skills sets. HR manager handling all HR functions may need the full support from IR expert who should be the full- time IR professional. Companies need to train them on strategy and should focus on their development and of course they should be paid at par to other HR guys.