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Employee Relations

Employee Relations is the general term used for defining the relationship between employers and employees. Employers know that healthy employee relations build a positive workplace culture where employees are actively engaged and involved in the workplace, contributing to improved business outcomes. On the flip side, poor employee relations will lead to increased absenteeism or presenteeism, poor retention and a toxic culture, negatively affecting the potential for business outcomes.

At its core, successful employee relations rely on effective workplace engagement that recognises the importance of individual and collective strategies incorporating two-way communication and consultation arrangements.

Employers boasting healthy employee relations operate in partnership with their employees and regularly test their approach through the various mechanisms they employ to build positive relations in the workplace, including:

  • Employee engagement surveys;
  • Consultative forums;
  • Approaches to conflict resolution;
  • Policy alignment and people-based decision-making;
  • 180 performance feedback; and
  • Coaching and mentoring strategies.

Managing and implementing employee relations strategies requires industrial and employee relations skills and broad human resources management capabilities. HBA Consulting’s highly experienced team has decades of hands-on experience across all three components, resulting in a comprehensive and holistic approach to employee relations strategies and issue resolution.

Typical requests for advice and assistance with Employee Relations matters include:

  • Individual employment contracts and letters of offer
  • Workplace complaint and grievance investigation and management
  • Workplace conflict resolution – including workplace mediation
  • Developing and implementing meaningful performance agreements
  • Managing underperformance
  • Designing, implementing, analysing and acting on the outcomes of Staff Surveys
  • Designing, implementing and evaluating a better practice HR Business Partner function
  • Coaching managers and supervisors to better manage people.
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Industrial Relations

Industrial Relations refers to the regulatory framework that applies to workplace entitlements, including setting minimum employment terms and conditions, providing protections for workers against inappropriate behaviour and unfair or unlawful practices and establishing an independent body for settling disputes relating to these matters. Industrial relations also refers to the framework for collective bargaining and employer relations with registered employee organisations (unions).

A sound industrial relations management approach is a crucial building block for successful workplace relations as it minimises disputation and helps build trust across the workforce.

HBA Consulting seeks to simplify the industrial landscape as it applies to individual businesses, drawing on our expertise and understanding of the legislative framework and the practicalities of how that translates into implementation across the workplace. Consequently, HBA Consulting has provided practical and pragmatic industrial relations solutions to clients across the public and private sectors.

We also have found that clients return to the HBA Consulting team for industrial relations advice and assistance because we are responsive to their needs, tailoring solutions at the strategic and operational levels while addressing the immediate concern according to the existing industrial framework.

We support our clients with their industrial relations needs across the following key areas:

  • Enterprise Agreements (public and private sectors) – HBA Consulting have assisted clients across more than 330 Enterprise Agreements and many more specific requests for targeted assistance since commencing operations in 1995.
  • Development and review of HR policies, procedures and guidelines to ensure compliance with industrial requirements.
  • Advice and assistance with industrial relations disputation
  • Advice and assistance with claims of unfair dismissal, discrimination, harassment, bullying and adverse action.
  • Interpretation and application of the Fair Work Act 2009, Modern Awards and National Employment Standards (NES) to employment arrangements.
  • Development and negotiation of enterprise agreements, including strategy development, review of existing Agreements against the relevant legislation and tailoring to future business needs, bargaining advice and assistance, voting, and completion of lodgement processes for the Fair Work Commission.
  • Workforce restructuring strategies, including analysis and advice about industrial obligations and risks.
  • Terminations, redundancies, and workplace disciplinary sanctions.

Our highly experienced consultants have worked as HR and IR practitioners in senior roles in the private and public sectors before joining HBA Consulting. This means that they understand how the advice and assistance they give can be implemented in the workplace and what the employer needs to consider to realise the best possible outcome while managing any associated risks.

Performance Management

The management of employee performance is an integral part of the role and responsibilities of every line manager and supervisor. The ability to establish, communicate, review and provide constructive and honest feedback to employees about how they are performing against requirements, where performance is meeting or exceeding expectations and where it can be improved is a fundamental management function critical to sustaining and enhancing organisational performance over time. It’s also essential for building good morale among employees.

However, employers can find performance management challenging to implement effectively across the organisation as a measurable link between business objectives and individual achievement is often overlooked or unclear.

For more than twenty years, HBA Consulting has been providing advice and assistance to organisations concerning the establishment, implementation and review of performance management systems from a range of perspectives, including:

  • Considering the effect industrial relations may have on performance management practices in industrial arrangements such as terms of an Enterprise Agreement or Modern Award or other employment documentation;
  • Training managers and supervisors to establish, implement, review and assess the performance of the people that work for them;
  • Developing or reviewing existing performance management policies and procedures to ensure alignment with changing industrial arrangements (e.g. new EA) and improving the guidance information available consistent with better practice HR management.

Managing underperformance

Managing underperformance is often a subset of the performance management process. From our experience, including underperformance mechanisms in performance management is suboptimal as each respective strategy, while linked, has an entirely different purpose and approach.

For most employees, the underperformance process will not factor into their regular appraisal and feedback processes. However, where there is no clear distinction between the two processes, employees will often view performance management negatively—undermining the benefits of performance management practices.

An underperformance process is initiated when an employee has failed to reach the required performance standard. This results in a focussed, timebound approach of review and feedback that can also be supported by dedicated support to the employee, with the overall goal of getting the employee operating at the required standard.

Managing underperformance successfully requires the manager/supervisor and the employee to have buy-in and be committed to the process. They also must have clarity about roles, responsibilities, processes and potential implications. This can often be achieved by establishing the following:

  • a clear understanding of the organisational HR policies and procedures that apply,
  • tangible examples of where the employee is not performing and what the performance standard looks like,
  • the consequences of not reaching the required performance standard,
  • the broader industrial relations environment in which underperformance, sanctions and termination are located.

The highly experienced HBA Consulting team have had decades of ‘hands-on’ experience in managing underperformance issues both as senior HR managers and in working with clients on the best way to approach what is often a challenging process for both the manager and the employee.

Managing Workplace Grievances

Sometimes, even the best-run organisations can find themselves with an unhappy or aggrieved employee. When this happens, it can be difficult to know the best way to address the matter when the logical resolution points, such as the line manager/supervisor or the Human Resources team may have been involved in:

  • the issues that are of concern to the employee, or
  • early efforts to resolve the matter that have been unsuccessful.

In such situations, HBA Consulting can provide an independent, highly experienced consultant who can:

  • review all of the relevant industrial and HR frameworks, policies and procedures and establish a compliant and professionally constructed workplace grievance review process;
  • review the grievance or complaint provided and initiate a formal review/investigation process;
  • undertake a review/investigation process communicating with all parties;
  • prepare a comprehensive report and provide the employer with findings and recommendations.

Managing Workplace Disputation

As with workplace grievances, there are times when even the best-run organisations can find themselves with an unhappy or aggrieved employee who initiates a dispute under the applicable industrial arrangements or employment contract.

Should this type of situation arise, time is usually of the essence as the matters can be referred to external bodies such as the Fair Work Commission. HBA Consulting can provide specialist HR and IR advice to assist in these situations to assist organisations that may not be familiar with the processes involved or who may not have the internal capability available to respond quickly and appropriately.

When a dispute is notified to the employer, HBA Consulting can assist in the following ways:

  • confirming the nature of the dispute and the relevant linkage to the industrial and employment framework,
  • confirming the employer’s obligations in terms of response – including timing, format and content,
  • analysis of the dispute and an assessment of the options, risks and potential outcomes associated with it,
  • advice and assistance in preparing for and participating in the dispute resolution process.

We have an experienced industrial lawyer as part of the HBA Consulting team, who works in partnership with our HR and IR consultants to lead, guide and support employers through these processes.

Enterprise Bargaining

Preparation for and management of an Agreement making process is a time-consuming and high-profile human resource management challenge for any organisation.

HBA Consulting offers specialist assistance to supplement an organisation’s existing HR and Industrial Relations capabilities, partnering with the business to ensure the best possible outcome as they navigate the bargaining process. Over the past twenty years, HBA Consulting has provided advice and assistance in a range of ways for more than 330 Enterprise Agreements across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

We work with organisations and their Executive and HR teams to establish a robust and fit-for-purpose enterprise bargaining process that addresses each of the eight critical steps of the process, as summarised below. We can do as little, or as much of the work at each stage as the organisation and its internal capability and workload require – meaning that resourcing and costs can be tailored to meet each employer’s needs and budget.

The Key Agreement Making Stages that HBA Consulting can assist with are:

  • Review and analysis of existing terms and conditions
  • Establish and confirm the client's Bargaining position
  • Train the bargaining team and related stakeholders
  • Establish a baseline draft Agreement for negotiation
  • Initiate bargaining per the legislative requirements
  • Undertake Negotiations
  • Completion of staff consideration and procedural voting steps per the governing requirements
  • Agreement lodgement and approval

Training for Enterprise Bargaining Representatives

There are significant benefits in providing training to those involved in the bargaining process, including:

  • The employer bargaining team and support persons;
  • Individual nominated employee representatives;
  • Those who will make decisions on what will and will not be agreed to; and
  • union representatives.

Aside from the benefit of bringing the group together before the bargaining commences, where they can meet and learn a bit about each other, the training will establish a clear and shared understanding of the following:

  • what the roles and responsibilities of the bargaining group are,
  • the components of the industrial landscape and how they relate to each other in a bargaining process,
  • good faith bargaining under the Fair Work Act 2009,
  • the obligations of bargaining representatives in terms of meeting the good faith bargaining requirements,
  • the practical and administrative components of the bargaining and approval process.

Our practical, hands-on, plain English training programs are tailored to the needs of each client and run from 2 hours to a full day, dependent upon the outcomes sought from the program by the client.

Workplace Redundancy Management

Redundancy is not something businesses desire, but often change is inevitable, and sometimes, the effect of change in a business can impact workforce structures, skill requirements or affordability.

Careful analysis of the change, the drivers of the change, and where the impacts will be felt is essential before decisions on redundancy can be considered. It is also vital to properly incorporate the governing industrial framework into the decision-making process.

Some aspects to consider include the following:

  • What is driving the change? Is it a long-term or short-term issue?
  • Can contingency plans be implemented to build time into the decision-making process? At the same time, more information can be obtained about longevity and impacts (e.g. stopping/slowing recruitment, reducing overtime/work hours, etc.).
  • Are all parts of the business equally impacted? Where are the impacts and the ‘business as usual’ elements if not?

Once the problem and scope are clear, consider possible options and risks to managing the required organisational shape or size changes. If the answer is that these considerations will not resolve the staffing dilemma, then a workplace redundancy management program may be necessary.

Employers often implement a ‘hands up’ voluntary redundancy process when reducing staff numbers. There are several reasons for this, including a belief that it is the least confrontational and expedient approach. However, such an approach almost always results in fixing one problem (i.e. delivering reduced overall staff numbers and costs) but often results in a range of longer-term, difficult-to-manage issues such as:

  • Loss of key personnel – we have found that good performers with solid and marketable skills will often take redundancy for the financial benefits, confident that they can easily find other employment;
  • Retention of average or lower performing staff – those staff that are not confident in their abilities to find new work if made redundant are far less likely to take up voluntary offers;
  • Loss of capability in areas where it’s needed – a fixation on staff numbers and financial savings via voluntary processes often means that capability gaps quickly emerge in crucial areas.
  • Loss of corporate knowledge – long-term staff often have extensive corporate knowledge that they take with them when they leave – usually, this isn’t thought about until it’s too late.

HBA Consulting has advised private and public-sector organisations on workplace redundancy management processes and programs by providing practical, professional and experienced HR and IR advice and assistance. At difficult times like redundancy, it is helpful to have assistance that supplements existing capability in an area that isn’t often available internally to an organisation.

For more information contact Gary Champion Principal HBA Consulting or 02 62474490


29 Somerville,
PH : 02 6247 4490