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Strikes can be stressful for everyone involved, including employers, striking employees and employees who have not gone on strike. Workplace volatility, often high during a strike, doesn’t necessarily dissolve once the strike ends. As striking employees return to the workplace, employers can help ease the transition by maintaining a professional environment focused on moving forward, not increasing or sustaining residual conflict or negative emotions
Review or Create Processes
If your company already has procedures in place for welcoming striking employees back, review these and share applicable components with managers, supervisors and other workers. Adhering to expected protocols will increase consistency, and people will feel more secure knowing that they can rely on established guidelines. If your company has not yet established processes for returning employees, meet with company leaders to establish these terms. Processes must meet legal guidelines; for example, it’s not permissible to single out or discipline employees for striking. Let supervisors and managers know that you expect them to comport themselves in a positive or emotionally neutral manner. Acting as if the strike was a betrayal is not acceptable.
Bitterness, resentment and other negative emotions may still exist among some employees who went on strike, or between non-striking and striking employees. Welcoming striking employees back might include making a public statement about the commonalities shared by your company’s workers, reiterating shared goals and suggesting a plan to move forward. Explicitly letting employees know that you will not tolerate acts of sabotage, gossip, or malicious gossip sets the stage for moving forward. State that no retaliatory actions will be made to striking employees, except for those who engaged in strike misconduct, such as defacing company property or behaving violently. Statements made to external groups, such as the press, should also be positive. Workers will know that you are committed to setting the strike behind you. Once guidelines for professional behavior have been established, it becomes safer to open communication lines.
Meeting with Leaders
Holding private or small-group meetings with employees can help demonstrate your willingness to hear about previous concerns or complaints that led to the strike. Identifying communication breakdowns or problems with company processes and philosophies can help target issues that need addressing. Welcoming employees to the table and hearing their concerns can let them know that you are invested in their long-term commitment to the company, not just temporary union demands. Issuing a public thank-you to individuals who helped the strike conclude smoothly or who helped keep business operations running normally, establishes a positive dynamic.
If your company is emerging from a particularly damaging strike scenario, it’s possible to contract with firms that specialize in post-strike work culture. Strike specialists can work with employees, managers and employers to help redefine company policies, discipline workers for strike misconduct and introduce new processes or work culture norms. Courses might offer classes on establishing workplace harmony or improving employee relations.
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- University of California, Santa Cruz: Labor Strike Plan 2013
- The HR Specialist: Unions in the Spotlight: What Employers Can and Can't Do
- Forbes: 5 Keys of Dealing with Workplace Conflict
- SF Gate.com: Strike talk: BART General Manager Lauds “Great Employees,” But Says Infrastructure Critical to System Future
- The Burke Group: Labor Relations Strategies and Consulting Services
- AFIMAC Online Training Academy: Post Strike Employee Return to Work Program
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.
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