In his (co-edited) book The Routledge Companion to Employment Relations, Professor Adrian Wilkinson, Director of the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing (WOW) and a team of renowned authors, show that the study of employment relations (ER) can help organisations meet competing workplace demands to produce better outcomes for all, rather than a few corporate players.

Almost everyone has an employment relationship of sorts, from traditional employee to the independent contractor engaged in the gig-economy – we all need to earn a living! While it is well recognised that the study of ER is a central function of the modern economy, the influence of broader environmental and contextual changes in paid work can be a topic of contention.

The Routledge Companion to Employment Relations provides an overview of key trends in understanding the nature and governance of work relations in the modern economy with examples of both the changing nature but also continuity within the area of ER.

“While most people have a general understanding of ER, employment contexts are highly variable, thus perceptions are changeable and can become biased: work may be secure or insecure, highly gendered or precarious, and subject to different influences that change over time and space,” says Professor Wilkinson.

The book defines ER as ‘the regulation and governance of rules, rule-making processes, institutions, attendant behaviours of actors, and relevant outcomes such as cooperation, equity, performance and conflict in employment,’ and at the heart of employment relations is the place of the owner, manager and the managed in relation to production. 

“On the one hand, managers need to monitor the work effort of employees, yet on the other hand, they also want to promote cooperation and active engagement. In turn, employees have a vested interest in seeking higher wages, which would distribute private profit away from the employer, while also preferring to cooperate with employers for stable earnings and job security. This cycle creates a power dynamic that we all participate in with a level of uncertainty,” says Professor Wilkinson. 

The book explores how globalisation has led to the emergence of new forms of work and institutional responses in terms of its regulation. With the fall of technological and political barriers to trade, many large organisations have outsourced their production through the development of supply chains. These destinations are often chosen because of their low cost and labour standards. Some western multinational corporations have even developed their own systems of “private labour governance” to regulate employment in these supply chains.

We have seen how the big issues of our day – austerity, financialisation, workplace relationships, conflict, participation, feminisation of work, low pay, and long hours – are all deeply connected to ER and as a field of it can make a call for the better management of people at work and support policy choices that can support a fairer, alternative equitable workplace while still meeting efficiency demands. 

The book has received positive review in the ER field internationally: “The Routledge Companion to Employment Relations is a welcome and highly accessible contribution towards advancing knowledge and understanding in the field of employment relations. Its thematic structure facilitates a focused analysis of key issues. Each chapter is written by acknowledged experts in the area, and the work is underpinned by original, independent and up to date research evidence augmented by incisive analysis and commentary. The overall work is therefore a great blend of theory, contextual understanding and original and independent research,” said Patrick Gunnigle,Emeritus Professor of Business Studies University of Limerick.

The author list includes multiple WOW academic and adjunct members (Professors Michael Barry, Griffith University; Geoffrey Wood, University of Essex and Pauline Dibben, Sheffield University) who provide a critical, international and interdisciplinary exploration of ER.