"Industrial relations" is the relationship between the management and the workers of a company. Regardless of whether the business is a factory or not, and regardless of size, maintaining strong industrial relations is key to businesses' long-term success. "Labor relations," while sometimes used interchangeably with industrial relations, is generally a specific subset of industrial relations limited to those employers dealing with union-related issues.


As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. The more knowledgeable the management and HR team of a company are about their rights and responsibilities, the more of an opportunity they have to build a strong labor-relations strategy. In nonunion environments, this means understanding the National Labor Relations Act and how it applies in nonunion locations. For unionized environments, this means understanding the law and being an expert in the collective-bargaining agreement that covers the work being done by the company.


In a business context, transparency means being open and clear about business processes and strategies. This means openly and honestly providing workers and their representatives with information about strategy and business planning. By being transparent, management, even in a small company, can work towards building a partnership with the employees that will help the business be agile and grow.


Everyone at every level of a company can appreciate when their supervisors keep them informed of what is going on with the business. In union environments, this might mean keeping the shop stewards or union representatives informed, but this extra effort can go a long way. By keeping up-to-date, managers, HR, employees and unions can focus on getting their work done and turn their attention away from rumors and speculation.


Consistency in applying discipline or handling grievances gives employees and union representatives confidence in HR and the management. As in all areas of business, people want to be confident of what to expect and want to know that when faced with similar circumstances managers and leaders will act in similar ways. This confidence opens the door for honest and productive efforts to resolve differences as they arise.