Is your grievance procedure poisoning relationships in your workplace?

Guest Writer: David Liddle – CEO of TCM (Total Conflict Management)

The traditional grievance procedure is the antithesis of constructive dispute resolution. It’s like smoking, it causes cancer – not in our hearts and our lungs but in our offices, our distribution centres, our workshops, our depots and our showrooms. Like smoking, the grievance procedure is deeply unhealthy, and it is reflective of a dangerous addiction that we have developed to litigation based rules, procedures and policies. 

The good news is that there is a new approach for addressing conflicts, disputes and complaints in the workplace. Rather than focusing on grievance – this new approach focuses on resolution – it’s called the Resolution Policy. The Resolution Policy offers a values based, person centred approach which treats people like humans and engages them in adult to adult dialogue. It is not a soft option, in fact the ethos of the Resolution Policy is that all parties take responsibility for the resolution of problems at work. 

In my new book, Managing Conflict. A practical guide to resolution in the workplace, I have gathered testimony and evidence from numerous organisations. In all of my research for the book, I have not found a single organisation who say that they garner any benefit from having a grievance procedure. One of the unifying themes that I heard was that the traditional grievance procedure destroys relationships, it polarises the parties, it undermines trust, it damages morale, it kills dialogue and it poisons the very fabric of a team – collaboration. 

Why am I saying this?

Firstly, I am increasingly frustrated that the grievance procedure seems to have a mythical almost inviolable quality that no other business process would be given. Seasoned HR professionals, union leaders and managers know that it doesn’t work – yet time and again it is used in cases that do not merit it, do not need it and will not benefit from it. 

Secondly, it is over 10 years since the Gibbons review was published, resulting in the repeal of the Dispute Resolution Regulations (2004). Michael Gibbons made it clear that a shift in public policy and organisational culture towards a more person-centred and values-based approach for managing conflict would deliver real benefits across our organisations. What have we been doing for the past decade? No wonder employee engagement is so low, productivity is so poor and so many British employees are so unhappy and so unhealthy. 

My third reason for saying this is that there is a myth that organisations have a duty to have a grievance procedure. This is simply untrue. 

There is no statutory, legal or moral requirement to have a grievance procedure

Nowhere in the Employment Rights Act (1996) nor the ACAS Code on Discipline and Grievance does it state that an organisation should have a policy called a “grievance procedure”. Section 3 of the Employment Rights Act (1996) simply states that the employer must provide information to the employee within two months of commencing employment. 

It goes without saying that any procedure for addressing an employee’s concerns should meet or exceed the ACAS Code on Discipline and Grievance. However, neither the 1996 Act nor ACAS defines what the policy should be called, how it should be devised or how it should be framed. In any event, the traditional grievance procedure was never designed to deal with interpersonal conflicts and broken relationships. In fact, as I state in my book, many UK policy makers, including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and ACAS themselves accept that an alternative term may assist the resolution process.

If the future of work is human, if building and maintaining trust and resilience is important; if you want to create a happy, healthy and harmonious workforce; and if you want to deliver HR services which are aligned to your core values – the best possible thing that you can do right now is take your grievance procedure to the nearest shredding machine. It’s time for a revolution – a resolution revolution.

David is the author of a new book – Managing Conflict. A practical guide to resolution in the workplace. The book contains useful toolkits (including a Resolution Policy template) and guidance for anyone who is involved in managing conflict at a strategic or a transactional level.  

IAM members are eligible for a free consultation with TCM if there is a conflict resolution problem in your workplace. Thereafter, further consultation work will be offered at a 10% discount.

IAM members also get a 10% discount worth £150 off the highly regarded National Certificate in Workplace Mediation. 


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