The Employer – Employee relationship

Let’s keep it simple. The Employer Employee relationship is a legal agreement between two parties. As the Employee I have a set of skills, knowledge and experience I can offer to you, the Employer. In return, you pay me a fair wage. Simple? Not quite.

Us humans are complex beings, full of emotion and ego. We are the sum of all our experiences and nowhere is that more evident than in the workplace. We spend a LOT of time at work, especially in full time roles. It’s hardly difficult to assume one will end up seeing the not so glamorous side of your Employer or co-workers personalities.

The trouble begins when we throw the word POWER into the fray. And why does this happen?

As Eckhart Tolle wrote in his book “A New Earth” : Fear, greed and the desire for power are the psychological motivating forces not only behind warfare and violence between nations, tribes religions and ideologies, but also the cause of incessant conflict in personal relationships. And I might add – The Employer Employee relationship!

I have met a number of incredible business owners and managers in my time. Many with very high levels of IQ. They are passionate and motivated, have a vision and will pour their soul into the creation of their business. The problem begins when the business owner needs to employ a couple of people to help him grow his business. High IQ does not necessarily equal good people management skills. And often people with high IQ’s are not willing to accept their limitations when it comes to managing and motivating a group of Employees to follow them.

In psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence”, he reflects back on research he participated in whilst a graduate student and then faculty member at Harvard University. This research analysed the actual competencies that make people successful in their jobs and organisations, and the findings were astonishing: IQ takes second position to emotional intelligence in determining outstanding job performance.

So why do I want to keep the relationship simple between the Employer and Employee? When fear, greed and the desire for power are throw in the mix, it’s like throwing a stone into a still pond. The ripples or sometimes tidal waves can have huge effects on staff morale and more importantly staff turnover.

As an HR professional, I have had many a conversation with staff members in tears due to an Employer using power to their advantage, thus reducing the legal relationship to one of “I am superior and you are inferior” It’s heartbreaking to see a dedicated professional reduced to a quivering wreck when they believe their job is on the line, whilst not quite understanding what they have done wrong. In many instances, they have done nothing wrong. Or more importantly, they have not met the Employers expectations as the Employer has never actually communicated them effectively.

So how do we keep the relationship clean and simple, whilst effectively managing the messy emotions that often handicap a business?

Remind yourself that both parties are involved in a legal agreement. The legal agreement is defined through :


  1. A clear and concise job description detailing fully the expectations of the role
  1. A well written employment contract without excessive use of legal terminology
  1. Well planned induction and training plan to ensure your new Employee can do the job
  1. Regular reviews allowing for positive feedback as well as highlighting areas for improvement if required
  1. Lots of mutual respect for each other
  1. As an Employer, being aware of your limitations and asking for and accepting help in areas you are not skilled in. And likewise for the Employee
  1. Remind yourself there was a reason you hired the person in the first place
  1. If the Employee is the wrong fit for your business, allow them to leave with their respect intact and their head held high

There are many factors that do come into play to get to point 1. A robust recruitment process to ensure you hire the right people in the right roles the first time around.

I could write a book, but in keeping this short, if emotions start to impact your relationship, always bring it down to the legal agreement. Avoid power struggles, gossip, and the ego leading you astray. Shouting at staff, being condescending or being an outright bully is not defined in the original legal agreement and there is no place for it in the working environment.