The vast majority of employers that I talk to say they have great employee relations. The good news is that most of them are right. The scary news is that some of them are in denial or oblivious to major problems. Good human resource (HR) departments and managers with a true open-door program should have their fingers on the pulse on the well being of the corporate community. They should be able to detect early warning signs and take corrective action quickly.
This doesn't always happen. Managers can get caught up in meeting their goals and forget that they are relying on real human beings who just work for a living not for their lives. They can overload them without even realizing it. That's where alert and accessible HR and management can play a vital role. This is challenging for small to mid-sized companies. I've seen more than one organization where someone who has grown into the job fills the HR function. This can be great when that person is given the appropriate training or it may be a disaster when they are not trained. One organization I know of grew from several people to hundreds over a period of years with the same HR person. This was great for continuity but not for employee relations when that HR director focused only on complying with the laws of the land and didn't really care about the individual people for whom he was responsible. Morale suffered severely until a change was made.
An open door policy is a powerful safety valve for problems. You will know if the policy is working if anyone can safely and comfortably walk into a top executive's office and talk about an issue that might otherwise jeopardize their job. Prevention is the better part of good employee relations. Policies provide a framework, training and culture are vital elements, and exemplary leadership by all of management is the ultimate key. Hire the best people you can and train them well. Make sure that everyone knows that your people are the most important resource that you have.
Remember that employees are people not machines. They have:
Ambitions that can be stirred.
Pride that can be hurt.
Nerves that can be shattered.
Hopes that can be realized.