Positive employment relations: An exploratory study
South Africa, a developing country, has been facing many challenges over the past few years; for one, Apartheid had played a significant role in shaping democracy in this country. Since the liberation from this political stance in 1994, the country had witnessed many changes, coupled with increasing challenges. Along with a volatile rand, political and economic instability, continual labour unrest, and job scarcity, quality education has become lacking. Education has been receiving renewed attention lately, with various protests ranging from text book delivery, and a lack of school infrastructure to teachers protesting for wage increases. Furthermore, along with the primary and secondary education sector, higher education institutions (HEIs) have been faced with increasing levels of uncertainty and instability. Not only have HEI systems and approaches undergone a paradigm shift - from rigid more traditional approaches to more flexible and creative approaches - but these changes have had significant effects on employees at HEIs. Ensuring an engaged workforce during these uncertain times, with employees in the HEI sector being plagued by increasing stress levels and an ever increasing workload coupled with increasing expectations, is a momentous challenge. A disengaged workforce that is faced with ever increasing challenges is more likely to seek other employment opportunities, which ultimately sees employees leaving HEIs. However, when the ambience within the workplace is right, employees are happier, experiencing a sense of well-being which could contribute towards instilling the motivation to be engaged and remain with the institution. Research on work engagement and turnover intention within the HEI sector has attracted many researchers, with the aim of increasing the work engagement levels and reducing employee turnover. However, positive employment relations that comprise two major role players - the employer and the employee - could contribute towards creating an ambience in the workplace which encourages work engagement and reduces turnover intention. Positive employment relations - which is still an emerging concept - entails quality, reciprocal work relationships between the employer (supervisor) and the employee, where valuable resources are exchanged between the parties for mutual gain. Such quality relationships are characterised by trust, equity, respect, support, an ability to manage conflict, and effective communication. However, despite positive employment relations being an emerging concept, not a single study could be found that has investigated the effects positive employment relations might have on the work engagement levels or turnover intention of staff. Positive employment relations emerged from the term positive relations, which fits into the ambit of positive psychology. As a newly-emerged concept, the available literature on positive employment relations had been fragmented thus far, with each study focusing on a particular aspect or aspects of a multi-dimensional concept. Thus, literature failed to conceptualise the term ‘positive employment relations’ from a holistic approach. For this reason, a mixed method research approach was used to explore and understand what comprises positive employment relations in this study. The aim of Article 1 was to conceptualise the term ‘positive employment relations’ and the core constructs which contribute to the establishment of positive employment relations. A meta-synthesis qualitative research design was used, where available literature pertaining to positive relations and positive employment relations had been consulted. Based on the meta-synthesis literature review, six constructs - trust, respect, support, equity, communication and conflict management - were identified as having a significant impact on establishing and maintaining positive employment relations. Based on the literature review, along with the identified constructs, the Employment Relations Scale (ERS) was developed with the aim of examining the effect these relations might have on an individual’s work engagement level and intention to leave an HEI. Article 2 confirmed the validity and reliability of the six constructs identified in Article 1; therefore validating the ERS. Furthermore, it was found that although positive employment relations significantly impacted the work engagement levels and intention to leave of employees at an HEI, the impact on intention to leave was smaller.