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It takes two: Why organizations need to build balance into their employment relationships


There are few more inspiring moments for entrepreneurs than making a new hire—especially if yours is a small, tight-knit team. 

The promise of performance, of adding a new member to help your organizational culture flourish, and the sheer honeymoon excitement of engaging a new employee makes for an intoxicating moment for business owners and operators. 

Throughout the recruitment process, however, promises are made and expectations are raised—and those can create lingering challenges for employers.  

As Canada’s unemployment rate hovers near historic lows and the competition for top talent rages on, organizations are under more pressure than ever to establish their bona fides as an employer of choice. Many will build employee-friendly workplace environments that offer extensive benefits or entitlements that may or not be sustainable over the long term. At times those perks don’t even support the product or service being delivered. Take flexible working arrangements, which are often not appropriate for organizations that deal directly with the public and need to have certain personnel available to provide services at specific times. In such cases, implementing a work-from-home program would not be a wise move. 

Every relationship requires balance, and managing the often delicate relations between your organization and its employees is no different. We can all agree that employers must deliver a competitive compensation package to keep pace with industry rivals. That could mean providing everything from career-development opportunities and employee recognition programs to nap pods and foosball tables, particularly if you’re aiming to hire discerning Millennials who won’t hesitate to shop their services to your rivals. 

But from the outset of the employment relationship, it should be clear that a certain level of reciprocity is needed for it to work, before outlining exactly what that means in the context of your workplace. The reality is that employment engagements tend to end badly when that balance isn’t maintained and expectations aren’t set up front—including the understanding that the arrangement is dynamic and will flux with the organization’s needs. Hiring managers and HR teams should make it clear to prospective employees that they’re entering into a professional relationship through an employment agreement, with conduct expectations set out in your organization’s workplace policy manual. Their role and function within the organization must be clear and have meaning to both parties. 

Now, you may be wondering how any of this is manageable when you’re also trying to operate and grow a business. Indeed, building and maintaining such a robust onboarding system (let alone finding the talent to hire in the first place) can be daunting. That’s why it’s vital to have well-defined systems in place and make sure those processes are applied with every new employee engagement. 

It’s also important to remember that a strong workplace culture is built on a deliberate embrace of certain core values—then living and breathing them every day. We’ve seen countless organizations position and trumpet their reputation as an employer of choice, perhaps by offering lavish entitlements, only to fritter away that fragile credibility because their workplace reality is out of sync with the brand they’re promoting. Companies that apply for and rank on employer of choice awards, only to have their employees openly question the validity of the recognition due to the major HR issues simmering within the business, are a prime example. 

In one situation, we learned of an organization that was criticized by a current employee who called out the luxuriousness of their new office interior, gym and staff nap rooms. She pointed out that no one could take advantage of these perks because management was working them to the bone, ignoring employees’ calls for improved work-life balance, which was the one perk they all valued most. In this case, better workplace amenities only made staff resentful. 

Building a reputation as an employer of choice is important in a tight talent market. So, too, is setting the stage for balanced employment engagements that serve the needs of the organization and position it for success. 

Laura Williams, Principal

Williams HR Law

As the founder and principal of Williams HR Law Professional Corporation and Williams HR Consulting Inc., Laura boasts more than two decades of experience providing strategic advice and legal representation to employers on a full range of labour and employment law matters.  Her core areas of practice include pre-termination advice and strategy, labour relations, workplace safety and insurance, wrongful dismissal litigation, workplace investigations, human rights, disability management, workplace violence and harassment compliance, privacy compliance, employment standards, workplace policies, employment contracts, restrictive covenants and workplace culture recovery. 

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