What's the difference between employee relations and industrial relations?

Michelle Donohoe 13.03.2015

As a HR Recruiter, specialising in employee and industrial relations recruitment, I thought it would be good to clarify the difference between these two areas.

Essentially, employee relations is a two person relationship between employee and employer. The focus is on how to effectively manage and strengthen this relationship. Industrial Relations on the other hand, is a three person relationship between the organisation, the union and the workforce that the union represents.

Industrial Relations originated in the mid-20th century during the Industrial Revolution in the UK. It came about as a means to understand the complex relationship between employers and employees. An employee associates Industrial Relations with better safety, training, job security, pay and conditions in the workplace. An employer understands it to be about productivity, employment law and conflict resolution. This resolution often involved the intervention of a Union. The union represents the employee as a collective workforce and raises issues to the organisation.

Employee Relations is the study of the relationship between employees and also between employers and employees. A business which focuses on the importance of strong Employee Relations often results in higher engagement, higher motivation and ultimately improved productivity and profitability. Employee Relations is about providing information to employees on the goals of the organisation. Employees should understand the ultimate goals of the business and what their role is in achieving these goals.

In recent years, Employee Relations as a specialisation has become more and more important in Irish business and MNC’s. While certain businesses such as food and drink production, banking and public sector; still have unions in place (An Post, AerLingus, AIB) the newer MNC’s are less likely to have a union and focus more on understanding motivation of management and the motivation of employees and bringing these two agenda to the same point.

People considering a career in Employee Relations should be able to bring the following skills, knowledge and attributes to the table:

  • A thorough understanding of HR policy and processes
  • In depth understanding of Irish employment law
  • Ability to provide expert judgement and advice to line managers, employees and HR colleagues
  • Strong credibility, and ability to influence at a senior level with strong stakeholder management skills 
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • Coaching skills
  • A strong customer service focus and employee experience mind-set


If you would like to discuss a career in Employee Relations feel free to contact me or any member of the HR Recruitment Team.

Michelle Donohoe's picture
Talent Acquisition Specialist


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