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Recession drives increase in workplace conflict...
First published Mar 31 2011 by Thomson Reuters Accelus™:
Conflict in the workplace has risen since the onset of the recession in 2008. The average number of grievance cases per organisation is substantially higher now (22.3 compared with eight in 2007), according to a recent conflict management survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. The report's authors suggested that the increased number of grievance cases reflects the impact of the recession, which has also produced a higher volume of tribunal claims. Certainly, this is echoed by figures from the mediation and conciliation service, Acas, which experienced a 13 per cent increase in the number of employment tribunal cases in 2010 compared to 2009.
"There are a variety of reasons why employees get into conflict," said David Liddle, founder of the TCM Group in London, which provides external mediation to clients, including banks and insurance companies. "Change is a major factor in conflict whether that is the organisation system or the process being changed."
It is not surprising that there has been an increase in conflict since the recession, said Dr Nic Hammarling, business psychologist at Pearn Kandola. "If you get cutbacks in the organisation due to the recession and a pressure to produce more with less; this can all cause conflict and result in inappropriate behaviour. The second issue is that the psychological contract between employees and employers is much more fragile at the moment and employees are being asked to work in different ways and seeing cuts and feel that their employer is not upholding their end."
"There have been more tribunal claims due to the recession," said Mike Emmott, public policy adviser for the CIPD. "This is because more people are facing redundancies and losing their jobs and they have less disincentive to go to a tribunal. Organisations are making people redundant so there are more opportunities for employees to argue that they have been made wrongly redundant and, secondly, there are high levels of compensation due to the difficulties in finding work and employees have nothing to lose in bringing a claim."
Many employers are using compromise agreements to try to avoid paying the hefty price incurred by a tribunal claim, the CIPD survey found. "Compromise agreements are a formal settlement agreement whereby an employee will waive all claims against an employer arising during the employment or engagement or termination in consideration for the payment of money," said Suzanne Horne, a partner at Paul Hastings, a law firm.
Compromise agreements have been commonly used in the financial services sector, she added. "Historically, financial services sector employers have been sensitive to employment claims or disputes which may have an impact on their brand, reputation or business. As the employment tribunal is a public forum, the financial services sector employer is often keen to avoid details of claims or disputes being heard in tribunal and then reported."
More than half of the organisations that used compromise agreements in the last two years reported that their use has increased. "The reason for the popularity is that, in practice, employers offering a compromise agreement will also include confidentiality clauses to prevent the employee discussing the fact, circumstances or terms of the agreement or making disparaging remarks about the directors or employees of the company," Horne said.
The CIPD survey found that major reasons for using compromise agreements (other than to settle an existing claim) were to remove an employee on grounds of poor performance (38.9 per cent), to avoid legal challenge in relation to redundancy (25.7 per cent) and to make it easier to remove senior staff without embarrassment (24.3 per cent). The survey findings revealed significant increases in most forms of managing conflict, whether internal and external. Almost half of the organisations have increased their use of disciplinary action and mediation in the last two years. Some 61.5 per cent of organisations have trained line managers in handling difficult conversations. "Line managers need those skills," Emmott said.
"There is a strong argument for more employers to train their employees to act as in-house mediators but this does require a change in culture where employers are encouraging discussions rather than going down an employment tribunal route."
Liddle argued that many leaders and managers were not well equipped to manage the complexity of change that comes from reducing the workforce. "Managers are not well equipped to manage the level of stress within the workplace or have difficult conversations. Managers' training budgets have been frozen and they aren't being trained in the skills of having difficult conversations and they are doing more HR work without the tools or confidence to deliver that."
Two in three organisations said that troubleshooting by the HR department has risen, according to the CIPD survey. "HR has a very important role to play as a peacemaker in an organisation," Liddle said. "They have the skills of facilitation and can manage strong emotions in the workplace and act as a mediator. These are essential skills for modern HR. They also have a second role in supporting managers in having difficult conversations so issues can be nipped in the bud."
The number of days that management and HR spend on managing disciplinary and grievance cases has risen since 2007: from 13 to 18 days for disciplinary cases and nine to 14.4 days for grievance cases.
HR has a significant role to play in reducing conflict by establishing a culture of trust, Hammarling said. "It's about using mediation skills, which is an art but it's a critical factor. What you need in place in an organisation is trust. Has HR done enough to establish trust in both parties? Many employees say there is no point in talking to HR because they are on the side of managers."
The consequences are severe if employers fail to tackle workplace conflict, Liddle said. "If conflict goes unchecked, it can escalate rapidly, the parties positions harden and they may adopt dogmatic and polarised positions," he said. "These can lead to ongoing blame, breakdown and create toxic and harmful working relationships for the parties and their colleagues. In some cases, it affects morale, productivity and has a negative impact on external relationships."
Notes to Editors
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- Karen Higginbottom is a freelance journalist who writes on employment issues for The Guardian and People Management magazine. She has written on a diverse range of topics, from transexuals in the workplace to bullying bosses.
- The TCM Group is the UK's leading provider of workplace, business and consumer mediation services.
- The TCM group was established in 2001 by its founder David Liddle
- TCM celebrated its 10th birthday in June 2011. Over the past ten years the company has delivered a sophisticated package of mediation services to some of the world’s leading brands – American Airlines, HSBC, BT, Arcadia Group, CBS Outdoor, Hallmark, and Ministry of Defence amongst many others.
- The company trains over 1000 individuals in the art of mediation each year. This includes HR professionals and business leaders plus other employees who are committed to improving the way that they resolve workplace and business disputes.
- The TCM Group regularly comments on mediation, dispute resolution and labour issues relations in the media including Sky News, GMTV, BBC Radio and various trade press.
- In 1997, The TCM Group established the Professional Mediators Association (PMA) – a body dedicated to raising standards amongst professional mediators