By David Liddle (CEO of TCM Group)
Unresolved conflict is a barrier to employee engagement
Unresolved workplace conflicts are one of the most significant barriers to employee engagement. Conflict creates uncertainty. It generates fear and it creates stress. Unresolved conflicts at work can drain resources and act as a major block at times of change or transformation.
In some cases, the reaction to conflict can be so extreme that it undermines team working and hinders innovation and creativity. The costs of conflict run to an estimated annual £33 billion to UK business according to the Confederation of British Industry, taking up 20 per cent of leadership-time and resulting in 370 million days lost. However, psychologists including Dr Bruce Tuckman, argue that conflict (storming) is a normal stage in team development.
As a mediator, my experience leads me to conclude that it is not conflict that is the problem; it is the way that we handle it that defines whether it is going to be a constructive or a destructive force.
It is relatively easy to engage employees when the tills are ringing. However, during these tough times, driven by austerity and talk of a triple dip recession, the potential for conflicts are substantially increased. Competition for scarcer resources places greater and greater stress on relationships. This is exacerbated by rapid change within organisations, increasing complexity in management structures, the challenges of globalisation along with a steady devolution of HR functions to a management level which often lack core emotional intelligence competencies. In addition to the above challenges, our traditional dispute resolution systems are failing. The very procedures which are designed to resolve disputes are in fact perpetuating them.
For those organisations that are serious about employee engagement, there is an urgent need for a radical review of how they handle disputes and conflicts.
The existing dispute resolution processes worsen and perpetuate conflict
Traditional grievance or bulling and harassment procedures do little to resolve disputes. Drawing on a quasi-legal structure they are inherently formal and profoundly adversarial. When I speak with employees, managers and HR professionals, they tell me that they do everything that they can to avoid going into a grievance procedure. When they do however encounter the grievance process, the experience has been described to me as harrowing; upsetting; destructive; stressful; frightening and ultimately counterproductive. Let’s not forget that this is the procedure of choice for resolving disputes in the majority of UK organisations.
The dichotomy is plain to see, HR on the one hand are a key proponent and enabler of employee engagement. Yet on the other hand, HR are the custodians of a dispute resolution system which tears workplace relationships asunder. This dichotomy has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of HR and in doing so, it creates the potential for cynicism and distrust of employee engagement initiatives.
Mediation is a non-adversarial process of dispute resolution during which an impartial third party helps the two or more parties have an open and honest conversation. Underpinned by best practice in positive psychology, the aim of mediation is to help the parties to identify and secure an outcome which is mutually acceptable. The mediator doesn’t propose solutions; they don’t make judgments about who is right or wrong and they don’t assess culpability or blame.
Mediators may be trained internal mediators or external mediators. Mediation is particularly effective when delivered by managers and leaders at the source of a conflict. Many organisations are now turning towards mediation as a tool for preventing disputes and a remedy for resolving them when they do occur.
The benefits of using mediation to build an engaged workforce:
- It gives parties in a dispute a voice
- It encourages openness and honesty
- It builds empathic, adult to adult connections
- Parties focus on their interests and needs rather than the strength of their relative positions.
- The parties craft their own solutions – avoiding the need for solutions to be imposed
- It encourages creative and innovative thinking
- Issues are resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties
- It underpins economic growth and drives competitive advantage
The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that almost 60 per cent of companies using mediation see a significant reduction in formal grievances and a reduction of employment tribunal claims by almost 50 per cent. A typical mediation lasts one day with over 90% of cases achieving a successful outcome. Mediation really is a win/win situation.
Download David’s full report and investigation into the role of mediation and employee engagement by clicking here. Includes various case studies plus a toolkit for HR and business leaders to help embed a mediation scheme.
About the author
David Liddle is a seasoned mediator with over 20 years’ experience in the field. He is the founder and CEO of The TCM Group. He is also President of the Professional Mediators’ Association – the trade body for mediators in the UK.
You can view his profile and connect with him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/liddledavid