Employee relations: Part 2 of 3

This article is the second in a series of three which deal with maintaining positive and mutually fulfilling employee relations within a Vet Practice.

The first article dealt with the start of the employment relationship (recruitment, selection and appointment); this one explores the managing of the employment relationship (performance management, the grievance procedure and the creation of an HR policy) and the third will examine the end of the employment relationship (resignations and dismissals, as well as the disciplinary procedure).


  1. Introduction

Maintaining good relations with employees is crucial, not only for a positive and productive work environment, but also to limit the possibility of future disciplinary action and unfair labour practices which could result in CCMA hearings.

The first step in achieving this is recruiting and selecting the appropriate staff correctly – as outlined in the first article in this series. Maintaining an optimal employee relationship consists of 3 main components, which will be examined in this article:

  1. Managing performance on an ongoing basis
  2. The creation and upkeep of a Human Resource Policy and related policies
  3. The establishment and application of a formal grievance procedure


  1. Performance Management

Most people understand performance management to be an annual event, one that causes fear and apprehension amongst staff and creates frustration among the practice management at the additional paperwork caused.

However, performance management should be an ongoing process and can very often be less formal. This means fewer issues need to be addressed annually, and the staff members can address performance issues on an ongoing basis.

In the first article, the job description was outlined and briefly discussed. From the job description, the sections relating to “general responsibilities” and “performance indicators” should be used as the foundation for the performance management process.

Guidelines for performance management:

  1. Performance management should be conducted on measurables; in other words, “increase sales of vet food by 100 units per month” is far preferable to “try to increase sales”.
  2. Where there is no way to measure, a system should be implemented so that they can be measured. For example, “improve customer interaction” could require a rating form to be completed by each customer. While this could be seen as onerous, the benefit can be seen in a story that a vet related; a particular employee was observed by him to be providing poor service on a few occasions. When this was addressed during the performance review, the employee became very upset, which in turn led to an unhappy working relationship and ultimately resulted in the employee resigning. After she left, the vet told me, it seemed that every customer demanded to know where she was as they missed her helpful and gentle service! This goes to show that if something is not measured fairly and consistently, the wrong conclusion can be reached.
  3. Timeframes should be established. For example, establishing that the front area should be kept tidy could be reviewed in a week, while increasing sales could only be reviewed after a longer time period.
  4. Performance management is a two-way street. It is definitely not only an opportunity for the practice owner to manage performance. Rather, the employee should be given the opportunity to explain any perceived lack of performance, as well as make requests that could improve their performance. This could be as simple as asking to be shown how an procedure works, or more lengthy and time-consuming. The employee should also be given the opportunity to air any general grievances in the workplace that they may have.



  1. HR Policy and Procedures

Perhaps because vet practices are relatively small or maybe because they are perceived as unimportant, an HR policy and its related procedures are often relegated to the “worry-about-it-when-it-happens” pile.

However, having detailed HR procedures making up a comprehensive HR policy is vital for the following reasons:

  1. The practice employees will know exactly what is going on
  2. You will be able to treat everyone fairly and equally
  3. Protection against the CCMA.

It is important to remember that your HR policy may not make your staff worse off than anything outlined in the labour legislation. For example, you couldn’t specify that your employees are only entitled to one day of annual leave per 30 days worked because the Basic Conditions of Employment Act makes provision one day per 17 days worked. However, you would be allowed to specify one day per 16 days worked, or anything less than 17.

The following are the main things that should be included in your HR policy. Remember, when it comes to this, the more detail you have, the better it is for everyone.


  1. Recruitment and Selection


  • Appointments and promotions
  • Service/employment contracts
  • Employee rights and entitlements
  • Employment of relatives and friends
  • Recruitment
  • Termination of services
  • Resignation or notice
  • Dismissal
  • Staff retrenchment



  1. Educational assistance, training and development
  • Educational assistance
  • Training and development


  1. Leave
  • Annual leave
  • Sick leave
  • Study leave
  • Maternity leave
  • Paternity leave
  • Compassionate/special leave


  1. Remuneration
  • Medical aid
  • Retirement benefit
  • Salaries, wages and reviews
  • Expense claims
  • Loans and advances to employees


  1. Sexual harassment
  2. Grievance Procedure
  3. Disciplinary Procedure
  4. Performance Management



  1. The Grievance Procedure

In the workplace, a grievance is any dissatisfaction felt by an employee with regards to their work, place of work or conditions of employment that requires the formal attention of management.

However, it excludes wage issues that are being dealt with by trade unions and appeals against disciplinary action as these are addressed by other mechanisms.

Note that this dissatisfaction may be between employees, or between the employee and management.

Examples of grievances are:

  • Rumours
  • Incompatibility
  • Differing attitudes and values
  • Prejudice
  • Poor working conditions
  • Sexual harassment
  • Unfair company procedures


A situation may arise where an employee may feel that they have been unfairly treated at work. Regardless of the reason, the practice has an obligation to ensure that the employee is given the opportunity to address the matter formally.

This obligation should be met by using the Grievance Procedure, a formal process that allows employees to have their conflict resolved. The critical importance of having a fair Grievance Procedure is that it should aim to resolve conflict before it grows into a much larger problem – both for the employee and for the organisation.

Note that unlike many other aspects of employee relations, a Grievance Procedure will vary from practice to practice as each entity sets up their own, based on practice structure and number of employees.

Although the Grievance Procedure will vary between practices, the following are guidelines to ensure that it is fair and accessible:

  • Employees are able to lodge their grievance with fear of victimisation
  • All grievances are handled with discretion, and in a way that the dignity and privacy of the employee is maintained
  • Grievances are settled as fast and as effectively as possible
  • The owner of the practice or his / her delegate is available to act as advisor for both parties
  • The employee has the right to be assisted by a co-worker at any stage
  • And, most importantly, the Grievance Procedure should not replace normal communication between people at work.

The Grievance Procedure should ONLY be used if it is clear that normal communication has not resolved the issue. For example, an employee should discuss the matter with the other person first, unless they are fearful for valid reasons.

Finally, be aware of the fact that it is easy to fall into the trap of over-using the Grievance Procedure; while it is a vital part of managing employee relations, it can be abused when employees use it to seek retribution for personal issues, or “to get back at” someone. This can trigger a lengthy chain reaction which wastes time and resources.


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