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Dealing with conflict resolution

Jul 16, 2018
Having an employee in a difficult workplace situation not only cuts down on productivity, but also leaves the employee and yourself in a state of unrest – leading to workplace stress and unease. Caroline McEnery guides us through a proper employee grievance process.

Employee grievances can arise for a variety of reasons and often as a result of difficult situations in the office. This includes changing work practices, alleged discrimination, bullying or harassment, health and safety issues, under-performance issues, promotion and issues with fellow employees. But how do you manage and keep the beginning of a grievance under control? A grievance procedure. 

Grievance procedure

As Chartered Accountants, you are very clearly aware of the legislation surrounding finances in the workplace. However, did you know there is a legal requirement to have a grievance procedure in place in your organisation for employees? Writing a grievance procedure and encouraging staff to utilise it is a fantastic proactive step in addressing difficult situations in the office before they escalate to bigger, organisation-wide issues. 

Your procedure should ideally provide individuals with a course of action if they have a complaint, a point of contact, a realistic issue resolution timescale and the ability to resolve employee problems quickly and informally.

A typical policy will have three routes: informal, mediation and formal. 

Informal
It is preferable for all complaints to be dealt with informally. This can resolve matters quickly and effectively, with the minimum of conflict and stress for all individuals involved. In this instance, the employee will addresses concerns directly to the person in private or the employee will ask for an informal meeting to be facilitated by the company between them and the other person, in private. 

Mediation

Mediation is not about blame but about understanding the conflict and finding agreed ways of future interaction and behaviour. There is no right, wrong or blame in mediation. A trained mediator would facilitate a meeting with both parties if they both agreed. This option is particularly effective where personality conflicts are core to the problem in the workplace.

Formal

This is an investigation following a written statement. Investigatory meetings will need to take place and the decision regarding the outcome of the complaint is made in writing. 

Steps to resolution

The first step for anyone dealing with a difficult situation in the office is to refer to the company policy. Management should know the policy inside out and upside down. This enables the manager to be as informative and of as much assistance as possible to the distressed employee. 

Next, the manager will explain the routes available in easy to understand language. It is essential all parties understand that no matter how serious, the company cannot proceed with any action on the employee’s behalf outside of what is laid out in the company procedure. The company cannot resolve the issue, as it belongs to the employee. 

Finally, the employee must decide the best route forward for them in addressing their concerns. Any route above and beyond the informal route should receive input from an HR expert to ensure that the procedure is completed correctly due to the myriad of complexities that may arise. 

In any conflict in the workplace, it’s easy to be swayed by office politics, give in to the urge to referee or take control. It’s important that you step back and let the procedure guide the employee to resolution.

Caroline McEnery is the Managing Director of The HR Suite and is a member on the Low Pay Commission and is an Adjudicator in the Workplace Relations Commission.