Collective Bargaining Communications – It’s Complicated
Collective bargaining is complicated. As an employer, you are expected to consider a range of views from your employees, to your shareholders, to your board of directors, as you try to establish an agreement that is beneficial for your company’s future, all while maintaining a sense of decorum, positivity and open-mindedness. It is the ultimate communications juggling act.
Unfortunately, the bargaining process has become even more complicated in recent years, with the rise of social media. Now, it’s not uncommon for aspects of the bargaining process to leak onto employee’s social media accounts. What was once a closed-door operation can now turn into an open forum for commentary. Employees might argue with each other on their Facebook pages, members of the bargaining committee could trash you from anonymously sourced accounts, or members of the press could take out-of-context quotes and publicize them, ruining your reputation and your position in the process.
What does this mean in terms of your approach to communications? Silence is no longer golden. In a pre-Twitter and Facebook age, employers could simply leave their communications at the bargaining table and focus on hammering out a deal in the smoothest way possible. Then, once the contracts were signed, they could map out a media approach. That kind of “one-step-at-a-time” strategy was ideal for an environment that moved at that pace, but in today’s world, communication happens in real time.
How does an employer communicate in this new, interactive environment? First, have a plan for how you want to interact with employees. If you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you. Second, be transparent. Employees expect to be informed about negotiations and if they’re not hearing about it from you—they’ll hear about it from someone else. Third, build a track record. The worst time to begin communicating with employees is before a strike deadline or the week before negotiations. Ensure that you build a reputation as being trustworthy and accountable and have an open rapport with your employees before you begin to negotiate, so that they already trust you when you need them to listen.