Kelly Tucker, Director of Cheltenham-based HR Star, discusses how HR Managers often have to resolve disputes that were initially handled by line managers.
It’s no secret (and probably no surprise) that many workplace disputes could be avoided if they had been handled more effectively in the beginning.
In a lot of cases, pursuing a dispute with HR involvement (outside of an initial advisory role) or further still, a court appearance, is often a last resort.
In these circumstances, the worst case scenario is a long, drawn out case with the two parties involved at loggerheads. By the end, a dispute may have lasted months or even years, but the problems often arise right at the start.
When an issue is first reported, it must be handled correctly. Mismanagement is a bad habit which is rarely rectified and by the time it is identified as the problem, it’s too late. The situation has spiraled until it becomes clear the parties involved are beyond reaching a conclusion without mediation or intervention.
Line managers are usually the first port of call in any workplace dispute. If an employee has an issue, their line manager is often the first person to whom they will raise their concerns.
Forming and maintaining positive working relationships with your employees will always be a benefit in situations such as these. A level of trust and respect is required if your employees are to confide in you and be assured that you will, and can, handle the issue properly and effectively.
It is important therefore that the line manager is trained and well equipped to manage these situations and take action as and when necessary to ensure a satisfactory outcome for all parties.
When first contacted by an employee, a line manager should seek advice early on and take it on board. Making use of any HR advice will ensure you are following the correct procedure and avoid falling at the first hurdle.
Take time to familiarise yourself with the procedures. It can be tempting to rush through procedures and skip steps in an attempt to get a quick, and desired, result. But while it may be frustrating, take the time to make sure you do things correctly. Not only will this reassure the employee you are taking their concerns seriously, it also avoids any come back on you or the organisation, should the issue escalate.
Your communication should follow company policy – refer to this constantly if you are ever unsure and make sure you are being consistent. Never make promises you cannot keep, even if you think you are being helpful or comforting. Giving an employee false hope could backfire should a dispute escalate.
Therefore, it’s key to record everything, including dates and times. Even if a conversation is more ‘informal’ than the last, it is still important to keep a note of the points raised. Likewise, keep detailed minutes from any meetings, including a list of attendees.
Sometimes it helps to invite impartial witnesses to any meetings to take notes on your behalf and be witness to the discussion. However, avoid involving people that don’t need to be or shouldn’t be involved as this can be damaging to relations. If a conversation is confidential, keep a note, but keep that information to yourself.
You should also make a record of any reported incidents. Ensure your notes are thorough as these will support any claim made.
If an employee is required to attend a formal meeting, give them plenty of notice so they can prepare for it. Putting an employee on the spot to ‘prove’ themselves could threaten any negotiations and alienate them from discussing the issue directly. It is also important to advise employees of their rights, so they know exactly what to expect.
No matter the employee or the circumstances, don’t jump to conclusions.
Take the time to gather information from as many sources as possible and consider all the evidence before you. Avoid making rash decisions. If you aren’t sure about something, take a step back and give yourself time to think.
As you would invest in your employees for positive and rewarding schemes, such as personal development, invest time in this. If an employee has raised an issue, it is obviously important to them, which means it should be important to your organisation if you are invested in your staff.
Follow the correct procedures, listen and if you are unsure, always seek advice. There will always be instances in which dispute cases need to be taken further, however, in the vast majority of cases, this should help to resolve any disputes effectively and efficiently.