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July 23, 2002
Union-free Environments Take Work to Maintain
By KELLY GRIFFIN
Contributing Editor, Best Practices in HR

Once union organizing has begun, trying to avoid an election is a little like closing the barn door after the cows have escaped. Therefore, creating a work environment where staff members feel valued and well compensated may prevent disgruntled employees from organizing in the first place.

Here are some thoughts to consider. As an employer, you should have clearly defined policies and procedures, honest communication with staff, appreciation of your employees’ value to the organization, and multiple ways to reward employees verbally, as well as monetarily, for a job well done.

Practical tips for a positive work environment

Here are methods to help achieve an employee-friendly workplace:

• Create companywide policies and procedures and stick to them.

• Develop a system for employees to make suggestions, and publicize their suggestions and reward employees for suggestions that result in new product ideas, cost savings, or additional corporate profits.

• Include rank-and-file employees on task forces to solve business problems and listen to their ideas. Employees’ ideas are often the most practical since they are on the frontline performing the work.

• Have in place a fair appeals process for employees that includes formal steps to follow in the grievance process.

• Use several methods of communication to provide important information to all staff:

Employee publications. If you don’t have any, create some. Even a simple monthly, two-page newsletter, printed traditionally or sent out through the company intranet, can make a world of difference.

Announcements and memos. E-mail as well as send traditional paper notices and post on employee bulletin boards.

Intranets. Post information on your employee Internet website and update frequently.

Employee meetings. Provide regularly scheduled business updates from senior management, in person when possible, or by video or web casts when locations are too geographically diverse.

Rumors. Communicate to employees positive and negative information as quickly as possible to avoid rumors, unnecessary anxiety, and unrealistic expectations.

• Make certain that your workplace is free from any type of harassment and discrimination, whether from peers or supervisors, and offer periodic training and updates to supervisory personnel.

• Strive for a diversity of cultures, race, sex, and ethnicity in both the staff and management ranks.

Is any of this a guarantee against unionization? Of course not, but the stronger your relationships are with the majority of your employees, the less likely that union organizing will go very far when a malcontented employee or group of employees tries to stir up union activity.

Attention to workplace ergonomics pays off

The slow but steady progress that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is making in instituting industry-specific guidelines for ergonomics in the workplace should have no bearing on whether employers implement better policies and standards in their own companies.

Statistics show that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) top the list of reasons that employees miss work. The subsequent workers’ compensation cases and lost productivity further support the fact that employers should take steps now.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines MSDs as “an injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs not caused by slips, trips, falls, motor vehicle accidents, or similar accidents.”

Ergonomics is defined by OSHA to be the science of fitting the job to the worker. If the job requires physical capacities that don’t match a worker’s ability to perform, an MSD can result.

Here are some recently released statistics for the year 2000 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that employers should consider:

• Over 577,800 MSDs were reported and accounted for more than one out of three work-related injuries and illnesses that involved time away from work.

• Twenty-six percent of MSDs occurred in the services industries, 24 percent in manufacturing, and 15 percent in retail.

• Three different occupations combined accounted for one out of five MSDs—truck drivers; nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants; and laborers (nonconstruction).

The good news is that injuries and accidents involving MSDs have continued to go down each year since 1992, along with fewer lost workdays, but there is still more work to do.

There are many relatively easy ways to implement better ergonomic standards in your work environment and a cornucopia of available resources to assist you in learning more about ergonomics and developing a plan for your workplace. One such resource is BLR’s Ergonomic Web Center. This site includes news, free tools to develop an ergonomics policy plan, checklists, links to other ergonomics-related websites, and products for sale to assist employers (http://ergo.blr.com/). —kg

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This article reprinted with permission by the publisher Business and Legal Reports, Copyright 2002, BLR.

KF 7-02

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