How to take the grief out of grievance

Grievances at work
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Forward-looking organisations have recognised that traditional grievance procedures are not delivering the goods when it comes to resolving conflict speedily and effectively.  The procedures are intrinsically adversarial, pitch people against each other from the outset and promote a victim/persecutor mentality that is beneficial to no-one (link to opinion article).

Alternative resolution approaches, which are person-centred and values-driven, are being used to good effect in organisations ranging from Capgemini to Newham Council.  They are providing lasting solutions to conflict, by encouraging individuals to own the issue and providing them with safe environments where they can engage in adult-to-adult dialogue with the support of trained facilitators.

A statutory duty?

HR is often reluctant to step away from traditional processes because they mistakenly believe they have a statutory duty to have a grievance procedure.  This is a myth.  Neither the Employment Rights Act (1996) or the ACAS Code on Discipline and Grievance define what the policy should be called or what shape it should take.

What really matters is that the organisation creates a mechanism for disputes to be resolved constructively, that the mechanism complies with the ACAS code and that the approaches are applied consistently and fairly to all parties.

A Resolution Policy can sit alongside or replace traditional procedures for dealing with workplace conflict or claims of bullying or harassment.  The aim is to provide a mechanism for assessing cases and finding the most appropriate form of resolution across a spectrum of approaches, with the resolution policy at the pro-active end and the grievance procedure at the reactive end.

In short, it’s about making dialogue the normal way to deal with an issue and ultimately taking the ‘grief’ out of grievance.

So what does a resolution policy look like and how does it work in practice?

What does resolution mean?

It’s helpful to first think about the two meanings of the word resolution.  The first meaning is that the situation will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.  The second meaning is that the parties involved in the process will resolve (i.e. be determined) to implement the agreement. 

A resolution that is secured by the parties themselves is more likely to be mutually acceptable and to endure over the longer term than one that is imposed – with one side perceiving that they have won and the other side perceiving that they have lost.

The hallmarks of a resolution policy

An effective resolution policy draws on five core principles:

  1. Dialogue – building dialogue between people to help them resolve disputes, conflicts and complaints.
  2. Fairness – giving all employees access to a fair and dignified approach to managing disputes, conflicts and complaints.
  3. Mutual respect– recognising that disputes, conflicts and complaints can be challenging and that a respectful approach should be taken at all times to assist with their resolution.
  4. Collaboration – actively encouraging all parties in a dispute, conflict or a complaint to work together to identify, agree and implement a shared solution.
  5. Timeliness – seeking to resolve all workplace disputes, conflicts and complaints in a timely manner and wherever possible, avoiding any unnecessary delays.

When it is suitable?

A resolution policy is suitable for dealing with a wide range of conflicts including allegations of harassment and relationship breakdown:

  • Allegations of bullying or harassment.
  • Disagreements and disputes between colleagues
  • Disagreements and disputes within or between teams
  • Concerns or complaints about the allocation or distribution of resources
  • Concerns or complaints about the actions or inactions of the employer (i.e health and safety, new working practices, equality of opportunity)
  • Disputes between local union representatives and managers

How it works

Rather than submitting a grievance, people make a request for resolution, usually to HR, a line manager or a union or staff official. HR provide overall co-ordination of resolution.

The request for resolution may result in one (or more) of the following courses of action:

  • Encouragement to engage in an early resolution meeting (direct face-to-face talks) between the parties.
  • A resolution triage assessment of the case to identify the most appropriate route to resolution
  • Support from one of a team of resolution champions (see below)
  • A facilitated conversation chaired by one of the organisation’s HR team and/or a union rep and/or a manager.
  • Independent mediation delivered by a fully trained and accredited mediator
  • One to one coaching
  • A team conference in the case of team disputes, collective grievances and collective disputes
  • A formal resolution meeting to offer a determination of the case in the event that the above steps are unsuccessful. The employee has the right to be accompanied and the right to appeal the outcome of the formal resolution meeting.

What is a resolution champion?

A resolution champion is someone who has been trained to work with all parties throughout the resolution process. They are not there to facilitate or mediate, but to provide impartial advice, support and guidance for all parties when needed. 

They are not there to give legal advice or analyse the merits of the case, but can answer questions about any element of the resolution process or policy and signpost people to additional support that may be beneficial as part of the resolution process.  Crucially, the resolution champion can also provide support for an agreed period of time once the resolution process has concluded (typically three to six months ).

Approaches available within the resolution policy

Early resolution meeting:  This is designed to give managers, employees and colleagues the opportunity to discuss situations in a supportive and constructive forum. Most workplace conflicts can be resolved at this stage. Managers should be trained to be ‘conflict competent’ and to facilitate resolution meetings.

Resolution triage assessment:  This is an opportunity for HR or the manager to identify the most suitable route to resolution. During the assessment, emphasis should be placed on early resolution, including the roles of roundtable facilitation and mediation. At this stage, parties should be allocated a resolution champion.

Facilitated round table conversations:  This is a confidential discussion between all parties that draws on the same principles as mediation. However, it is less formal than mediation and can be used to bring parties together at an early stage of the dispute. The facilitator acts neutrally and encourages the parties to engage in a constructive dialogue, with the aim of reaching a mutually acceptable outcome. In some companies, such as Royal Mail, unions and managers work together to facilitate the meeting.

Mediation:  Mediation is a non-adversarial way of resolving difficult situations.  It is used as an alternative to formal or legal processes.  The mediator is an impartial third party who helps those in conflict have an open and honest dialogue with the aim of achieving a win/win outcome. 

The mediator can be a trained internal mediator or an external one and should be trained to an accredited standard.

Investigation:  This can be invoked as a result of the triage assessment or when employees have a complaint or concern that they feel has not been resolved satisfactorily by a resolution meeting, a facilitated conversation or mediation.  If an investigation is deemed suitable and necessary, the organisation should follow its own internal investigation procedure.

Conflict coaching:  This is a solution-focused process that promotes empowerment, reflection and a focus on the future.

It offers a safe space for managers to increase self-awareness and transform the way in which they handle conflict and change. Conflict coaches should be professionally trained and can come from within or outside the organisation.

Formal resolution meeting:  In old money, the formal resolution meeting is a grievance meeting.  This is an opportunity for the employee to meet with his or her manager, HR representative and others to identify a suitable resolution to the situation. The outcome of the meeting will be a formal recommendation for resolution, which in most cases will be agreed between the parties involved during the meeting. 

In line with the Acas code, employees have the right to be accompanied, and the right to appeal the outcome of the formal resolution meeting.

Team conferencing:  This is a non-adversarial process used for resolving disputes within teams and to resolve allegations of bullying or ‘mobbing’ within a team. There are four core principles at play during team conferencing: 

  1. It is fully inclusive (meaning everyone who is affected by the situation is involved)
  2. It is non-adversarial and promotes collaborative problem-solving
  3. It is led by a neutral facilitator who manages the process and make sure everyone plays a full and equal part
  4. It is confidential, i.e. nothing that is said during the team conference will be disclosed to anyone else

David Liddle is the founder and CEO of the TCM group, the UK’s leading mediation and conflict management consultancy, and author of ‘Managing Conflict: A Practical Guide to Resolution in the Workplace’, Kogan Page/CIPD, 2017.

About David Liddle

David Liddle, CEO of The TCM Group

For the past 20 years David has been successfully promoting the principles and practices of mediation, collaborative problem solving, person centred HR and ER practices, values based leadership and non-violence.

In 2001, David established The TCM Group. TCM stands for Total Conflict Management. TCM are the UK's leading providers of mediation nd dispute resolution services and work with clients as brod as Tesco, HSBC, Capgemini, Metropolitan Police, DWP and the UN

David has been instrumental in transforming attitudes to conflict management and he has played a major role in cementing mediation as a credible and mainstream activity for some of the most well-known and valued brands. He is collaborative by nature having built partnerships with business leaders, public servants and politicians in the UK and globally.

His ethos, his expertise, his experience and his vision deliver tangible and sustainable benefits at an economic and a human level for his clients. His highly regarded and sought after interventions deliver enhanced performance and efficiency within the boardroom; improved wellbeing and resilience for leaders and employees; greater employee engagement; and a significant reduction in the cost of conflict and litigation.

In 2017, David's Book 'Managing Conflict' was published by Kogan Page and the CIPD. This book has received rave reviews and is available by clicking here

David runs regular seminars and webinars plus he writes regularly about different aspects and facets of mediation, industrial and employee relations, grievance and disciplinary resolution and a broad range of people management issues.

Email David

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