Employee relations lessons from Royal Mail

There’s a postal strike on.

Smarta only mentions this because, well, it hasn’t really noticed much of an interruption to its service so far – except when its DVDs failed to arrive, but its suspects that has less to do with the postal strike and more to do with its postman’s taste for 1970s action thrillers.

That said, although the current strike seems to be a bit of a sad affair, if a vote by the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), which is threatening national strike action unless the Royal Mail agrees to stop making redundancies, swings the wrong way when it happens later today, the UK could be hit by something altogether more impressive.

To get their sides of the arguments across, this morning’s Today programme featured proponents from both sides throwing various accusations at one another. “You’ve already agreed to redundancies,” moaned Royal Mail managing director Mark Higson, while CWU’s deputy general secretary Dave Ward repeated the words ‘no strike guarantee’ several times, before giving up and mumbling something about 'periods of calm'.

Smarta’s favourite character during this slot – this pantomime of malcontent, if you will – was Séan Rickard, a senior lecturer in business economics from Cranfield School of Management, who sounded as though the whole episode was causing him untold personal misery.

“This is a rather emotional dispute,” he lamented to a rather amused-sounding John Humphrys. “The Trade Unions know in their hearts this must involve redundancies, and the management needs to recognise this is a most difficult thing for a union to accept.”

Rickard’s diagnosis involved an issue every business experiences: communication. “There’s an air of adversarial relationships, a complete lack of trust between management and the unions,” he explained. "Both the management and the union must take responsibility for that."

You see? It all comes down to trust. Stay transparent, maintain a good relationship with your employees, and you too can avoid strike action on a national scale.

Next week: Smarta cures the NHS of its absence problem and makes HMRC's online self-assessment tax return system work first time, every time.

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