Employer-Employee Relationships – when “flexible” shouldn’t be “informal”

Sometimes it’s easy to confuse “flexible” work arrangements with “informal” workplaces.  It’s entirely possible to have a formal set of workplace practices that still allow for flexibility from management.

Author: Lehanne Bleumink, Gold Seal HR Services Manager.

In recent times we have seen an increase in queries to the HR Helpline that involve a breakdown in employer-employee relationships. It is obvious that there are still a lot of businesses that continue to operate informally and don’t have in place formal policies and procedures to help protect their business. This can be dangerous as it can cause a range of issues and cost your business dearly from a financial perspective when things go wrong.

It is easy for employees to take advantage of your business if you don’t adhere to your workplace practices.  We have seen many employers who try to be understanding and bend over backwards to support their employees only to be ‘burnt’.

When hiring a new employee, an employer is starting a new relationship. Managing this relationship is vital to business success, as strong relationships can lead to greater employee happiness which can increase productivity and profitability. Employer and employee relationships should be mutually respectful. As with all relationships, the employer and employee relationship is one that must develop over time.

The relationship between employee and employer is sometimes fragile. If an employer disregards the concerns of employees, this can lead to a number of important and sometimes expensive problems. A company that doesn’t foster a productive relationship between employees and managers may also develop a poor reputation in the industry.

If employers take steps toward improving the employee and manager relationship this can facilitate a highly productive and happy workplace – such as the implementation of an employee recognition or reward program to thank their employees for a job well done. Meetings and regular communications between employees and managers are also important; this can help avoid employees feeling disconnected from management.


Lack of clear guidelines – employers sometimes make the mistake of thinking informal procedures in the workplace will make the employer-employee relationship easier to manage. Often the lack of specific protocol and clear guidelines makes the workplace confusing due to a lack of structure. It is difficult for employees to develop their own protocols when rules are not firmly established. This can also cause misunderstandings of what is expected, particularly regarding calling in sick and the need to provide a medical certificate.

Misunderstanding relationships – inappropriate relationships can also develop between management and employees when only informal procedures are in place. An employer and employee might become too personally involved which can lead to gossip and resentment among others.

Lack of documented information – informal procedures can add to the problems that typically occur between employers and employees, such as when a conflict arises. It is difficult to mediate a workplace dispute when a paper trail is not present due to the company’s reliance on informal procedures. The resolution of the problem is more difficult as it is harder to prove anything that happened in the lead up to the dispute if nothing is documented.

Conduct issues – there can be more conduct issues when formal procedures are not in place. Employees and management may have a different attitude toward their own conduct and behaviour in an informal environment than they would if there was specific protocol to follow. Among the problems that can occur due to a lack of formal protocol are poor time management and decreased productivity among employees.


Informal arrangements benefit both the employer and the employees, but you may have to change informal arrangements if the employees are taking advantage. Informal work arrangements can lead to confusion and undesirable behaviour among your employees because the rules are not clear or documented. Introducing formal arrangements can help get your employees back on track and prevent further problems.

These steps can assist you to introduce formal arrangements:

  • STEP 1 – Make a list of the informal arrangements causing problems in the workplace. For example, if you don’t require a medical certificate when someone calls in sick may cause excessive absenteeism as it is too easy for an employee to take a ‘sickie’. Make note of this on your list.
  • STEP 2 – Evaluate each informal arrangement on your list; write down the potential changes beside each arrangement. It is important to find a way to alter your system and introduce formal arrangements without causing hostility among your employees. For example, have a leave policy that outlines when a medical certificate is required.
  • STEP 3 – Speak to your employees regarding the possible changes to the informal arrangements on your list. You may want to let the employees know their recent behaviour is the reason for the changes, but do so in a factual manner, not accusatory or with hostility. Invite employee suggestions on how to improve the arrangements and note their suggestions.
  • STEP 4 – Revisit your arrangement list. Compare the employee’s suggestions with your solutions. Try to find compromises and use elements from the employee’s ideas to improve your changes if possible.
  • STEP 5 – Meet with your employees again to go over the final changes. Make sure all employees are aware of and understand the new arrangements.
  • STEP 6 – Replace informal arrangements with formal policies and procedures; review the formal policies and procedures in the future as needed.


Formulating employee policies and procedures to suit organisational needs can be challenging. Many questions arise such as how to avoid discrimination. Companies that are just starting to develop human resources policies may find the process complex; this is why Gold Seal have developed the Employee Policy Handbook. The handbook and other related HR templates are fully customisable to enable you to ensure that they suit your specific needs. You may choose to implement all the policies, or just choose those which you feel are relevant to your business.

Policies are intended to guide employees in the way in which they carry out their role by providing information about the employer’s preferred approach. Policies should be the minimum standard for the manner in which a company operates. They are designed to help management and employees to operate consistently and efficiently and can be useful in times of performance management.

It is important for employees to read and understand all policies to ensure they understand their responsibility in the company’s commitment towards the success of the business. Employees should sign a document declaring they are aware of and understand the requirements of the policies and sign the document again each time a new policy is created or amended.

It is easier to protect your business if you make sure your employees are clear on company standards and expectations. It’s unwise to assume employees know what is expected of them and their behaviour if you haven’t made it clear right from the start.

For assistance on any of your HR/IR requirements – call Gold Seal on 03 9510 5100 or email HRServices@goldseal.com.au

2018-04-18T13:08:33+00:00April 13th, 2018|Articles, HR News, News|