Anna Shields and Alex Efthymiades, Directors of Consensio, explain how to manage conflict in the workplace before, during and after redundancy
In difficult economic times, “redundancy” and “conflict” are sadly, common themes. Redundancy is challenging for all concerned, not just the distress and difficulty for departing employees, but also the negative impact upon the wider team, business management and clients. The good news is that conflict can be effectively managed and, in some cases, completely avoided through the use of mediation and conflict resolution techniques.
The redundancy process for most organisations is a drastic measure designed to improve the financial “bottom line”. Whilst the cost savings are obvious, ironically, the inherent conflict caused by redundancy ends up costing business far more than they expected and indeed, bargained for. The reason behind the paradox is that HR and managers are often not suitably equipped to conduct the difficult conversations which occur, resulting in lost morale and productivity. Training in mediation and conflict resolution skills can help organisations before, during and after the redundancy period.
The first phase of redundancy includes numerous meetings held behind closed doors which make employees feel stressed, insecure and often demoralised. This decreases productivity and massively increases the potential for conflict and possibly employee initiated litigation. The best way to nip conflict in the bud is to effectively communicate with employees and to take on board employee feedback. Managers and HR trained in mediation and conflict resolution skills will be able to consult with staff, and, where possible, negotiate alternatives to redundancy. By engaging with employees in a procedure that affects the whole organisation, the likelihood of conflict decreases and “win-win” alternatives may be found, including sabbaticals, part-time employment, salary decreases and job sharing. These solutions not only save time and money, but they may also decrease the number of necessary redundancies or, at the very least, smooth the process for all concerned.
If redundancy is the only option, resulting conflicts tend to be the most challenging as they are driven by loss of self-esteem, fear and insecurity. Although dismissal is often unrelated to performance, departing employees may feel demoralised, hurt and betrayed. Again, it is critical that managers and HR are trained in how to handle redundancy conversations in order to limit claims of unfair dismissal. Managers and HR need to communicate openly about redundancy and, in difficult situations, appoint an external mediator to help employees deal with unresolved conflict.
Once redundancies are complete, the final phase deals with resulting issues, such as impact on team morale, survivors’ guilt and new work responsibilities. Again, mediation and conflict resolution skills can be used by managers and HR to resolve ensuing conflicts, to boost employee morale and to embed learning from the process.
With the UK unemployment rate hitting peaks not seen in recent memory, so are Employment Tribunal claims citing unfair dismissals. The new ACAS Code of Practice calls for disputes to be solved at an early stage and recommends mediation as part of every organisation’s dispute resolution portfolio. An appropriate plan, which includes training management in mediation and conflict resolution skills, means redundancy can be managed more effectively at every phase. for further information, visit: http://www.consensiopartners.co.uk
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