It's already well established that having the appropriate work culture and strategy for maintaining good working relationships are critically important for the effective delivery of business objectives. As far as employee relations are concerned, the approach adopted must ensure that conflicts or disputes are kept to a minimum or even better, resolved, as soon as possible and with the least impact on the business.
The way conflict is dealt with currently by most organisations is one whose primary focus is to judge a situation and deliver an outcome. It does not always consider the issues to be solved depending on the type of issue (whether it is just a difference of opinion or it has reached an entrenched stage) as explained in this paper from ACAS. Many HR professionals also invite employees to raise grievances formally in order to deal with them, the informal stage being left for the manager to handle.
Observing what happens in companies, going the formal route is however often what causes the most irreparable damage to inter-personal relationships. Indeed, the way companies handle conflict management often fails to consider the aftermath of such processes. We know just so well that in most cases, the damage to the organisation is considerable as:
whatever the outcome, the parties are invariably left traumatised by the ordeal which often takes time for them to recover, if they ever can;
by focusing mostly on establishing whether there is case to answer, the outcome of the process often fails to resolve the root cause of the conflict;
the employer, the external party to the inter-personal conflict has been given the task to arbitrate a conflict and give an outcome, to the disappointment of one of the parties.
Conflict management vs conflict resolution
As its name suggests, conflict resolution, not conflict management ensures that the root cause of the issues are explored and fully resolved as part of the process.
With the changing nature of work, recent surveys on employee outlook which include millennials attitudes towards work point to a radical shift in the psychological contract and different, more people centric expectations. As a business owner or a leader, it makes financial sense to constantly consider ways to improve working relationships and employee experience as your business's productivity depends on the engagement of your teams, which in turn relies on positive work systems through for example, adequate conflict resolution.
Many organisations now rely on more informal conflict resolution through internal or external mediation. Mediation will give the parties a more collaborative system to dealing with issues, especially when they are relationship-based. Both parties are therefore given the opportunity to get to the bottom of their differences, offering the other party ways to better work together. Both can then agree a new working relationship moving forward and, through a better understanding of the other person's perception, the ability to make progress in the relationship. This alternative approach is more likely to motivate and engage employees and managers as well as improving performance and productivity. After all, a win-win situation is always the best outcome.
To offer mediation as a possible way of dealing with employee conflicts, a good amount of mutual trust, fairness and respect must exist in the organisation and it is up to Leaders, Managers and HR to offer this positive context.
We'd love to hear what you've done to improve your employee relations strategy and the outcome of this change. Please let us know in the comments.