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First Concern of PR in business is Employee Relation

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In proposing procedures for a public relations function career all of the suggestions offered so far have been from the professional PR career viewpoint. If a businessman, whose career is his present chosen field, wants to know how he should go about being his own PR man or woman, he would go about it differently because he applies a different definition to public relations. The notes that follow are for his guidance. They are equally suited to the professional, but they are not written from his viewpoint.

The most important public relations for a company or institution concerned with its No. 1 public: the employees. To strike a middle of the road position, we shall assume that our company has 100 employees; then we shall explain how they should be handled to keep them happy and productive.

There is no material difference between employee bodies of 10 and 10,000 for communications purposes except the technique changes related to volume. An employer of 10 can speak to each directly; an employer of 10,000 can speak only vicariously, even in letters. Large employers may have a PR specialist assigned to letter writing. Small companies should combine this PR function with personnel.



The first occasion for communicating with an employee may occur on his first visit: when he comes in and accepts the position. Here is what should be done. Our examples, and specimens to follow, are for 100 or more employees.

If he is an hourly employee, his final step in the interview will be a handshake with the personnel manager who's other title may be production manager, office manager, or, in some types of business, PR manager. If he is to go on the monthly payroll, he will have met the president, and his interview will be conducted by his new superior. In that case his handclasp will be with the department head concerned. Then he will be handed a letter in a standard No. 10 business envelope addressed: New Employee.

Dear Fellow Employee:

We have passed your careful scrutiny and you have agreed to join us. In turn, you have passed our careful scrutiny and we invited you to join. That may best exemplify our way of conducting our business. We are partners; we asked you to do something and you complied; you asked us to do something and we complied.

We run our business as a partnership: each of us has an assigned role; each does his part by fulfilling it, and our lives become as fruitful as it is possible for such a mutual arrangement to make them.

If that sounds like everyone makes his own rules it is only because the rules that we have as custodians of the investment of our owners were devised to permit every one of our fellow employees to do his best job. We have as many rules as the next fellow: one of them is that every employee is on an equal basis in keeping with what was agreed when we joined forces. No one in your place of employment may infringe upon your rights as a fellow employee. Someone is responsible for telling his group, or any single fellow employee, what needs doing next. When the fellow employee is new, as you will be for awhile, he must show you how we do things. Your supervisor will also be responsible for informing you of your rules and rights.

Around us we see considerable conflict in the world. We are grateful that a minimum of conflict affects our lives at work. That explains our reason for insisting that every employee respects and deals with his fellow employees as equals. We hope that you will be happy here. Attached is a listing of benefits and other matters you will want to be acquainted with.

Sincerely yours,

That letter should be signed by the president, whether he has met the new employee or not. He should meet all candidates for positions on the monthly payroll.

Because it may occur to some that this specimen letter might be better suited to a new member of a Boy Scout group, we pose this question: If it were written to a group of bankers who were inspecting the facility to evaluate it as a basis for a $100,000 loan, would a welcome letter in that tone be in order? Yes, it would. It is the type of letter that might be handed to a group of civic leaders who were touring your facilities.

Why do not more companies say such things?

Many executives prefer to appear more dignified; not so permissive, a little more businesslike. They are mistaken. Employees not only demand respect: when they don't get it they start collecting their "no respect compensation" within the hour.

All companies have their largest expense in their payrolls. Among an average community's most predictable happenings is its leading employer arrogantly telling his equals how he is being robbed by indifferent employees? Among sights most unlikely to be observed is an employer saying, "They voted for the union, and I can't blame them."

Hourly people should be given instruction in their jobs until they say, "I can do it." For those on the monthly payroll it should be a condition of employment that they give up one evening a month to a meeting to discuss their ways of dealing with the hourly people and with each other.

The hourly people may bulk larger on the payroll, but the first line supervisor is the one who controls that cost. It is the general manager's job to tell the supervisor how to treat his fellow employees. With 100 people we may have four or five supervisors, if our role is equally divided between hourly and monthly salary.

The meeting is called to order: all supervisors and section heads are present. The general manager, or president, opens the meeting (6:00 P.M.):

Welcome. I would rather have this one hour meeting now than ask you to come back after dinner. We have two or three problems that we will discuss. Individuals are asked to make notes if they hear something that should become a part of our work day. The most important thing for each of us is his relation with his fellow workers. I believe that is worth mentioning only as it applies to our relations with hourly people and, in a lesser degree, with our clerically related people. The work sheets show work outputs and are our basic measurement of the efforts we get in the shop. Department 200 has been off somewhat in the past month. I know Tom Smith as supervisor there can't be held fully responsible because of special internal problems. All other operations are apparently up to their marks. The second matter of concern is ours . . .

So the meeting goes for one hour.

All personnel require attention from the highest officer possible. Although monthly one hour meetings, with a two hour meeting each quarter over a dinner on the premises, may seem like pampering, it is not merely for the employees but for their spouses and children. Each of them has personal economic problems. The spouse has an important bearing on the attitudes of hourly people. That is why a letter should be sent to the house, giving some general manager's views of company situations. These letters should be sent every 60 days, plus one more at Christmas or year end.

Dear Fellow Employee:

It appeared that our business was going up last month, but I guess it is asking too much for even greater efforts when everyone already is doing his best. I do want to thank our management group for keeping the high performance level during November when we had three holidays this year. Also, you kept the place running during the bad storm that could have shut us down for a day or two if you had not been on top of it.

Now entering December we have orders to keep us busy into January, allowing for three days of lost motion. We will have to let our people go home at noon Tuesday, Christmas Eve; and a week later on New Year's Eve. As in the past, we will not issue a letter: each executive should tell his own people, whenever he wants to.

We are facing an additional pay reduction to meet the increase in Social Security payments starting January 15. It might be a good idea if each of us asked around a little to be sure no other company is planning to do anything unusual such as giving their people any kind of benefit to offset the deduction. Under the law we must make the deduction.

Best wishes,
Sincerely yours, (sig.) John Jackson, President

The strategy of such a routine letter is twofold. 1) It follows the 60-day pattern as the December entry. Others have arrived in early February, April, June, August and October, establishing periodic expectancy without overdoing it. 2) By keeping the letter in a low key, the spouse is impressed by the general manager's friendly way with key management people.

Letters to the home have their greatest value in their effect upon the spouse, or on older children. That is why strongly worded letters often backfire: those at home do not see the urgency. The purpose is to establish timing and reading habit to have communications when they are needed. Suppose our 100 employee metals manufacturer's force is divided into 60 hourly workers related to the industrial end; 20 clerical and other non management employees, and 20 supervisors, department heads, technicians and sales executives, and the officers.

A critical situation would be the announcement that a union organizer was going to talk to the clerical and service people, mostly women, in the offices. That would be the time to put some meaning into the next scheduled letter.
Dear Fellow Employee:

Rumor has it that an office union organizer has approached some of our people, as was mentioned in the executive meeting last Monday where I first heard it.

The organizer is within his rights; and our people certainly are within theirs if they want to join. While, in a technical sense, each supervisor is responsible for his charges, I doubt that we can hold any supervisor responsible for union activity. To do so would be like asking each to dissuade his people who are approached. That might not be our course as a way to avoid having the union. I will say that we are much better off not having an office union for these people.

Our first job is to be sure that our house is clean. Every employee is supposed to be earning the full pay that anyone gives in this community to the type of job involved. Does anyone know of any exceptions? If so, he had better discuss it with Tom Jones, who has all figures on local pay rates.

Dealing with People

As the personnel and PR director, Tom Jones not only is responsible for all comparative salary data, he administers the weaponry that is most effective in dealings with the most costly part of the business: the employee public. In general, salary administration will be handled by a committee, but once the facts are in, personnel/PR and the general manager goes to work.

It is assumed that Jones composes the letters to employees for all signatures, unless the general manager is especially adept at it. Or, as company size permits, the career PR specialist would be the writing and editing wing of personnel, with direct access to the top officers.

Conducting Salary Negotiations

PR techniques are the best tools for employee company climate building. When the climate sours PR usually is the best of several tools that must be ready for use. Just as a sales letter depends upon the proposition, communications depend upon the competitive merit of a company's pay scales. Once a bargaining representative is certified, the negotiating table becomes the stage center. Unless a company wants to continue taking on the union after the contract is signed, its letters to members are over the personnel director's (or department/division head's) signature. The exception is the president's Christmas or other special occasion letter. In companies of up to 1,000 employees, the payroll is management's area of greatest potential: the administrative group (clerical personnel) and management from supervisor/foreman to engineers/sales executives and officers. Letters to these are always permissible, but beyond the six outlined, even for critical occasions, they decline fast.

Timing in Salary Talks

Tom Jones' watchword becomes "timing," as he gets together all department head estimates of a salary organizing situation. He will finally hear that cards are being passed out at the door. He collects everything. If the company has a union for the hourly employees, he gets his "G 2" working and takes the temperature. These are fathers, mothers, spouses and other kin of the monthly salary people. The strategic value of keeping quiet about attempts to organize clerical and supervisory hell) is that the hourly kin tend to want their "dress up" people out of a union.

It is to be hoped the organizer may abandon the project, or withdraw to bring in greater union clout. Should the union announce that a majority is asking for an election probably the first publicity to show up in newspapers Jones will verify it with the U.S. Department of Labor and send all salary people a letter.

Dear Fellow Employee:

You may have seen the story in the Tribune that the Office Workers' Union is trying to organize our administrative group. The company is not directly involved in this matter at the present time. As the company's officer handling salary administration, I wish to assure all fellow workers that our rates are equal to or better than the highest being paid by other companies in the area. Also, because our community has a higher than average standard of living, our salaries arc, according to information from industry sources, well above the industry average.

As we all are aware, the unit involved here is composed of our secretaries, the general clerical staff and some who are designated as technical service people. They have three outstanding characteristics: they are the youngest in years of any employee segment; they are largely women; and they are all considered promotable. In fact, they cover six classifications of which the low end group has been with us for less than one year; and the high end group is supervisory in responsibilities and compensation scales.

Since supervisory group is largely on a person-to-person basis, the basic question will become: do they prefer a personal relationship structure, or would they gain by delegating someone to deal with LIS on a collective basis. That is the issue.

As mentioned above, we will not face a serious situation until the Union secures sufficient petitions (cards) to demand an election. Also, it should be mentioned that an employee who may have turned in a card for any reason does not thereby make a commitment to vote. Likewise, should a result of an election certify a union, not all members of the unit would perforce join.

I shall keep you advised,
Yours truly,

The strategy of having Jones speak for the company here is largely to keep the general manager out of it. When the Labor Board validates the cards it will notify the company. Regardless of other factors, if the company really wants to head off an office union, its lawyer should ask for time before an election date is set. During the delay period the president's regular letter will be devoted to the subject. Because there is invariably family at home disagreement on office unions, it is important that all correspondence be in a low key. The strongest theme is "promo ability and future." Most women employees are married, but any effect of that depends upon otherwise unrelated factors. The company makes no mention of it.

Facing the Union

Unions are much better positioned to do crisis publicity than are companies. The personnel PR manager should visit the publisher/editor and radio station manager at the first inkling. Just as if he were a PR career specialist, he should be acquainted for the long term: before a crisis occurs. He merely tells the company's story. Usually he is talking to another employer, but the reporter or station news writers are not employers.

On balance, the weakest aspect of personnel PR handling is with the press. Unions may gain by publicizing grievances or remote situations: they are baiting the company. Worse than a bad answer is "No comment". Tom Jones should prepare a statement daily for the president to issue: then put it in the file, unissued. The strongest gambit the company has is to convince media management that the organizing effort is weak. They should not abuse the union; but they may say that "it is stirring up some bad blood among the hourly people" (who do have a union).

Publishers and radio abhor strikes with a vengeance. The company should not attempt to mislead news experts, but it should keep outsiders reminded that the company's industry position would not be competitive if they "lost" the office people.

If no attitude change follows two or three letters from the general manager to all salary employees and the election date is set, management should give its case to the press. Then it should confine its shots to manager letters until election day. Once the fat is in the fire, keeping cool is the watchword. The company's competitive position should be its public theme; security and promo ability its internal theme, under standard conditions.

Employer/Employee Relations and the Community

All sizes of companies (and divisions) should keep their community relations tightly programmed. Where they are controlled from the personnel or general manager's pockets they can be expensive, negative and at best paternalistic.

Community programs should be divided into two classes of activity/project: one half company initiated and  motivated elements and one half standard community participation events such as the United Fund campaign.

In some degree, companies have tight fitting union situations or they work hard at avoiding them. Employees are emotional in their attitudes toward the company. That is basically why a "soft sell" approach is recommended for incoming people at all levels. Companies, divisions, or even general managers who publicize "I like tigers on my staff" almost always end up holding the tiger by the tail. Nice guys may not win in physical combat, but they sure can wheedle money out of markets. Events that companies with 100 or more employees should sponsor include:
  1. Christmas Party for employees' children. Off premises: toys for kids under twelve; popcorn and coke. Managers, supervisors reception line; everybody meets mamma. Santa: low price clown type show; employees' choral group. Brief emotional talk by general manager. Christmas is all emotion. Unions are stuck with "bottle parties." Companies get the families. Letters of invitation come from general manager; one follow up to give names of door prize winner and thanks for coming.

  2. Summer Picnic: Foremen/Supervisors sponsor. Company pays for it, supervisors invite. Also they man the hot dog and coke stands.

  3. United Fund Drive: In plant, in keeping with the local committee of Fund.

  4. Savings: U.S. Bonds and/or Blood Drive.
Good community programs have only one yardstick: how close is it to employee participation interest? Like the letters, both budget and number of occasions should be set annually. These permit as much publicity as PR can get out of them.

The businessman who wants to do his own PR should start in personnel with a letter for the new employee and continue with regularly scheduled company letters keeping employees and their families informed on company progress.

Employee relations are the first concern for business PR, and are inextricably bound in with community relations.

QUESTIONS

What is the timing schedule for letters to employees? Who sends them?
How do you decide which community activities to support?
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