The Labor Relations Special Session held last month for National Electrical Contractors Association-member contractors at NECA 2009 Seattle highlighted the importance of employers and employees understanding their mutual interests and each party’s rights and responsibilities. It’s a lesson worth sharing.

The session’s focus was on Labor Management Cooperation Committees (LMCCs) established between NECA chapters and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) local unions to improve communications, solve problems, sponsor mutually beneficial programs and explore new approaches to issues of mutual concern. To the surprise of no one, chapters and local unions that participate in active LMCCs, where the benefits of participation are clear to both sides, have the most success in creating positive marketplace reaction for their members’ services.

But what does that have to do with you, particularly if you’re not involved in negotiating reciprocal labor agreements?

Everything! It’s not a management-union issue. It’s about meeting your responsibilities in whatever role you perform, seeing the value in others and helping them reach their full potential. That’s not only my personal philosophy; it’s an important part of how my own electrical contracting company, Valley Electrical Consolidated Inc. (VEC), operates. It’s at the heart of its vision statement:

For VEC, carrying out the commitment to employees includes hosting weekly luncheons, featuring speakers on topics of interest to workers, making the workplace fun with special events, offering opportunities for employees to gain recognition and encouraging employee interaction. Safety and incentive programs are a big part of it. Recognizing and, when possible and appropriate, accommodating the needs of employees as individuals is an important ingredient, too.

Now, I’m not saying you have to follow VEC’s example precisely. In some cases, that may not be feasible or desirable in your circumstances. In other cases, you may have better ideas or different ideas that work better for your company.

But I am saying that having dedicated, productive employees is prerequisite to succeeding in the marketplace. In that sense, employers need to put their employees first so that the customers will follow.

Here are some recommendations worth considering:

• Show a strong commitment to employees by furthering their education. Your firm will reap the benefits when workers are prepared to take on new or expanded responsibilities.

• Providing a safe workplace is the employer’s responsibility. Ensure your workers have appropriate safety training and all the safety equipment and safeguards they need for each job. The goal is for everyone to go home in good health every night and come back ready to be productive every workday.

• To the extent possible, facilitate work rules and programs that help employees stay healthy and productive on the job and off.

• It’s also your responsibility to ensure proper job planning and layout, quality supervision and efficient manpower usage and to provide the latest technology, efficient materials and the necessary operating tools. The goal is to enable workers to do their jobs well and without unnecessary delays and impediments.

• Recognize employees for their efforts and achievements, both at work and in their personal lives.

• Communicate with all your employees on a regular basis—not just about company policies and procedures, but also about company news and achievements in which they can take pride and about concerns they can help address.

• Most important, remember that communication is a two-way street. Let employees know they can come to management with problems and they will be listened to respectfully and will get help if needed. And, truly listen to their ideas and suggestions on how to do a job better or improve the company, and implement those ideas when possible.

When you provide the means for employees to enjoy their work, take pride in their accomplishments, know that they are valued and participate in shaping the company, you will have employees who will eagerly embrace the team concept, work hard to provide quality services that keep customers happy, and, in general, do their best to help you maintain and enhance your company’s profitability. That’s the type of reciprocal agreement that can lead to lasting success.