The ‘must’ and ‘should’ of good employment relations

If you own a small business you need to keep paper work to a minimum but not cut corners when it comes to employment law. But without any in-house HR support this can be easier said than done.
There are clearly lots of legal compliance issues to consider, as well as plenty of good practice advice around – but before you feel defeated by the number of policies and procedures you need to introduce, remember that the success of a good business boils down to how well you look after your people.

Faced with a long list of business needs – like taking on a new member of staff, changing working practices, dealing with discipline and grievances, and leading and motivating your staff – where do you start?

Break your business needs into three categories: those to do with your staff, your managers and those about you, the employer. Then ‘must do’ (things that are legal requirements) and ‘should do’ (things that may not be law but will help your business and can be prioritised and planned over a period of time).


As an employer what are the three top people issues you have to face? Each employer will have a different view, but every employer’s list is likely to include the need to lead, manage and motivate.

When it comes to running the people side of your business there are some must dos – particularly around consultation and communication. As a rule of thumb, the more important the issue, the more critical it is to talk and listen at the earliest opportunity. So anything that involves major changes – redundancies, relocations, transfer of undertakings etc – make sure you consult.

You also have a duty of care over your employees, which means looking after their health and safety. These days, this is not just about slips and trips but also their wider mental and emotional wellbeing.

Some of the ‘should dos’ might include setting the right tone for the way you treat people at work. The ‘open door’ policy may seem a bit cliché these days, but it’s often the simplest ideas that engender the greatest levels of trust.

You might also want to introduce or review your system for managing performance. This will help you get the best out of your staff and help them to identify with your business vision.

Your managers

Although you are responsible for drawing up many of the ‘must have’ policies in your company – for example, a disciplinary and grievance policy is a legal must – it is your managers or supervisors who will have experience of using these policies.

Managers are increasingly seen as holding the key to high performing workplaces, simply because they interact with staff on a day-to-day basis and know what works well on the ground and what doesn’t. Managers also have a big influence on how people get on at work – they can nip any problems in the bud before they escalate into full-blown conflict.

A really good ‘should’ for your managers is training in people management skills. This can pay dividends when it comes to keeping absence and employee turnover levels down. It’s amazing what a difference holding regular return to work interviews can have on your attendance records.

Your staff

Your staff are entitled to be given a written statement of the main terms and conditions of their employment within two months of starting work – this means setting out clearly their entitlement to things like pay and holidays.

Pay is always going to be a key issue – so you need to be aware of the National Minimum Wage rate and the new regulations governing agency workers and their new rights after 12 weeks.

Some important ‘shoulds’ might also include a good induction programme: first impressions are very important and it’s in your interest to get new employees up and running effectively as soon as possible.

Involving employees in decision-making is also a common ingredient of successful businesses. You might decide to do this informally at first, particularly if you run a small business. You can always develop more formal processes for working together as your business grows.

Being legally compliant – only dealing with the ‘must do’s’ will undoubtedly help you survive in the short-term. But how well you respond to the carrot of good employment relations – the ‘should dos’ – may ultimately determine how well you thrive in the medium to long-term.

Remember, you do not have to do everything on your wish list at once – in fact, you’d be a little unwise to even attempt it! Your priorities will be unique to your business needs.

About the Author

Adrian Wakeling is Managing Editor at workplace experts, Acas. For further information visit or call the Acas helpline on 08457 47 47 47

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