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Shall We Have a Quiet Word?

Q - One of my employees has raised an issue about another colleague. Can I deal with this informally?

A- Yes. A quiet word to explore the issues and decide on a way forward may be all that is needed to resolve the issue and is often the best way to achieve the desired results. Make sure that you keep a dated record of the conversation which includes the actions that both parties will take to address the issue and any follow up plan. Send a copy to the employee.

The Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance, which provides practical guidance for handling these issues, recognises that many potential grievances can be resolved informally. A recent study by Acas found that 79% of participants believed that informal discussions are the most effective way of solving workplace problems between colleagues.

Dispute resolution skills are important for managers. These include careful listening, empathy and calm questioning, allowing managers to take on board an employee’s opinion without passing judgment. Issues quickly turn into formal grievances if employees feel they aren’t being listened to or issues are being swept under the carpet.

You may have a situation where an employee hastily sends an email about a work-related issue but not mentioning whether or not he or she is actually raising a grievance. In such a case, ask employees to specify their position, i.e. is this a formal grievance or are do they want an informal resolution? If the latter you can employ informal measures.

In many disputes the informal stage is the first and only stage as many conflicts can be dealt with by simply talking and listening to employees. Allowing employees the time and space to express their feelings and concerns can often help to clear the air, though you have to achieve a balance between listening and allowing the employee to repeat their concerns at considerable length. You should also include some points in your grievance procedure allowing you to put the brakes on very old, repeat frivolous or nuisance grievances.

Once you receive a complaint, arrange a meeting with the individual concerned to talk things through and see if there is a straightforward solution. During the discussion let the employee give details of the issue or problem and how he or she thinks it may be put right.

We so often hear about situations where there’s no issue other than two individuals who just don’t like each other and can’t get on. In such circumstances (sooner rather than later) explain to them both that while it would be nice to be on friendly terms with all colleagues it sometimes doesn’t happen. We suggest they have a chat together in the first instance to clear the air, understand what each finds difficult about the other and to agree a way forward. If they don’t want to do that, have a conversation facilitated by a manager to see if they can thrash out a way of working that is equally effective for the business. As a minimum we expect mutual courtesy, co-operation and helpful communication.

It’s not always possible and sometimes an independent third party such as mediator is needed The Acas code acknowledges mediation as a valuable tool for settling workplace disputes. The aim of mediation is to emphasise the interests of those involved in the dispute, encouraging them to bring their positions together. Here are some tips given by Acas if you decide to use workplace mediation.

  • Ensure the issue is suitable for mediation.
  • Start the process sooner rather than later.
  • Appoint a trusted, independent mediator.
  • Ensure the conditions are right.
  • Don’t rule out other options.
  • Don’t be disheartened if there is no immediate solution.

Some disputes are unsuitable for the informal mediation route. Where this is the case treat the matter as a grievance and explore it in the usual way.

If you need help getting HR problems resolved in your business, get in touch.

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