HR professionals have relied on formal grievance procedures for years, but are they still fit for purpose? In an extract from his new book, Managing Conflict, David Liddle argues that resolution policies, rather than traditional grievance procedures, have a better chance of achieving harmony in the workplace.
For many HR personnel, managers and union representatives, the grievance procedure provides a road map for managing disputes.
However, experienced HR professionals, union reps and managers will do all they can to avoid the grievance procedure.
They know it will be bruising and damaging so they make valiant attempts to resolve issues outside of the formal grievance process, applying a set of discretionary behaviours and activities.
This refusal to use the very process designed for resolving disputes is a damning indictment of that process – from people who know what they are doing.
Surely, as I have been told numerous times, one benefit of the traditional grievance procedure is that it provides consistency.
Well, it does for some poor unsuspecting souls who are consistently stressed, harmed and damaged by it.
But for those seasoned HR professionals, union reps and managers who know just how damaging and stressful the grievance procedure really is, it is actually promoting discretionary activity. I celebrate such discretionary activity, if it leads to a resolution.
Surely discretionary activity is one of the biggest causes of inconsistency, which the grievance procedure exists to resolve. That’s a paradox
Put resolution at the heart
At the heart of the HR paradox lies the grievance procedure. However, there is good news. It is possible to change and it is possible to reject the old paradigms and begin to embrace a new approach for managing conflict at work. Instead of focusing on the grievance, focus on the outcome – resolution. It really is that simple.
Newham Council in east London is an organisation that has made the transition to a resolution policy as an alternative to the traditional grievance and anti-bullying policies.
Catherine Anderson, organisational development manager at oneSource (which provides the back-office functions at the London Boroughs of Newham and Havering) expands:
“Anything that diverts a grievance is worth doing. They just take up too much time and they certainly, as far as I’ve seen, are completely ineffective,” she says. “It’s so important to get people to sit down and talk and that is the main thing that the resolution policy does. Our aim is to make dialogue the normal way for people to resolve an issue.
“For instance if you had an issue in your family or with a friend or with a neighbour, I would like to think most people – well first thing you would do would be to have a chat. I don’t know why we don’t do that at work. It just makes good sense.
“The unions were fully on board as they knew that we had retained the formal elements of the old grievance procedure as well as promoting new routes to resolution for our employees. I suppose that you could say that we have lost nothing but we have gained absolutely everything. It’s early days for the resolution policy but since it’s been introduced (six months ago) there hasn’t been a single grievance.”