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Reducing the Threat of Labor Problems

July 1, 2004
by root
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Treating your employees with the dignity of colleagues can go a long way, says this labor relations expert by Stephen J. Cabot, Esq.

Awards for length of service should be given at the conclusion of an employee's initial probationary period and after his or her first, third, fifth, tenth, and subsequent milestone anniversaries with the company. These awards may include small cash gifts, gift certificates, tickets to sporting events or theatrical performances, company merchandise, and jewelry. To maximize the positive impact of the awards, management should present them at company-sponsored events, such as annual holiday parties, summer picnics, etc. The presenter of the award should be a member of top management.

Numerous processes for selecting recipients of awards for quality of service exist. For example, management might form a committee of five to seven volunteers; in any event, hourly employees should comprise the majority of this committee's members. The committee should select employees from various departments and positions, and the awards should be based upon attendance, safety, team building, productivity, and other criteria deemed important within the corporate culture. Awards for quality of service should be of greater monetary value than those given for length of service.

Another category is the suggestion awards. On a monthly basis, management could select an important and topical issue about which to solicit employee suggestions. Management could ask, for example, how it and employees could work more effectively to reduce operating costs, reduce absenteeism, improve efficiency or productivity, or address other matters of mutual concern.

The suggestions would be reviewed by a committee of three to five people representing both management and hourly employees. Again, hourly employees should comprise the majority of this committee's members. Management representatives should be chosen by top management, but all the hourly employees should be volunteers. The committee should meet within seven days after the end of every month, or as immediately as possible, to review the month's suggestions. By majority vote, they should choose a winning suggestion. The author of the winning suggestion could receive a cash prize and a plaque with his or her name inscribed on it. At the end of the year, 1 of the 12 monthly suggestions could be chosen by management or a committee of management and employees as "suggestion of the year." The person who offered the suggestion should receive a larger cash prize and a special inscribed plaque, and have his or her photo placed in a special location where it could be seen by all employees.

An Untapped Resource: Exit Interviews
Another part of a strategic communications action plan is the exit interview, which provides one of the best opportunities for management to gain candid appraisals of the company from departing employees. When an employee leaves a company, he or she is likely to feel free to voice candid concerns, opinions, and advice. During such interviews, management can learn a great deal about problems that an employee might have been hesitant to express while employed. One can garner valuable information about where a company must improve working conditions, where it needs to make changes in its corporate culture, and how to increase its own levels of trust and credibility. Such insights will ultimately serve to enhance levels of productivity and efficiency.

By not asking, not listening, not talking, not taking action, and not opening numerous channels of communication, companies will feed the adversarial relationships that lead to unionization and to slowdowns, walkouts, and strikes in companies where unions are already in place. A decreasing bottom line resulting from these actions will surely demonstrate the shortsightedness of not having a strategic communications action plan. Furthermore, that plan must be part of a company's overall business plan and, within that, its labor-relations plan. The communications plan should be audited every six to nine months or more often, if necessary.

The strategic communications action plan that I have described in this article is designed to break down adversarial relations and establish perceptions of management's goodwill. If followed, it will ensure years of increased productivity and profitability, with little or reduced labor strife. The positive results of this will go directly to the facility's profitability.
Stephen J. Cabot, Esq., is Cochairman of the Labor, Employment, and Employee Benefits Practice Group, Saul Ewing, LLP. He has been profiled on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and was selected by fellow lawyers as a Super Lawyer for 2004. Cabot has authored Up From Confrontation, Stephen J. Cabot's Complete Guide to Labor Relations in the 21st Century, and Everybody Wins! For more information, call (800) 355-7777, e-mail, or visit To comment on this article, please send e-mail to For reprints in quantities of 100 or more, call (866) 377-6454.