With the prediction that anything up to half a million public sector jobs will be lost as a result of the Government’s spending cuts, a large part of the UK public sector workforce is faced with an uncertain future. Redundancy raises a number of challenging issues to employers and employees alike and quite often leads to workplace conflict, which in times of economic uncertainty can become protracted and difficult. The stress and anxiety of departing employees faced with a challenging job market, together with the impact upon morale and wellbeing of those whose jobs remain, creates heightened episodes of workplace conflict. Whilst the outlook seems bleak, on a positive note, redundancy can be effectively managed through the use of mediation.
Although the intention of the Government cost-savings are obvious, ironically, the inherent conflict and distress caused by redundancies may end up costing organisations far more than intended.
During the first phase of redundancy, employees often feel insecure and demoralised, which can be exacerbated by the secrecy of discussions surrounding the redundancy selection process. Productivity is affected and the potential for conflict and possible employee initiated litigation is increased. The best way to nip this conflict in the bud is to effectively communicate with employees and take on board employee feedback. By training line management and HR professionals in mediation and conflict resolution skills, they will be able to consult with staff and, where possible in the public sector, negotiate alternatives to redundancy. Through employee engagement, the likelihood of conflict decreases and ‘win-win’ alternatives may be found including sabbaticals, part-time employment, salary decreases and job sharing. These solutions will not only save organisations time and money, they may also decrease the number of necessary redundancies or, at the very least, smooth the process for all concerned.
Where redundancy is the only option, the resulting conflicts are generally the most challenging as they are driven by employees’ loss of self-esteem, fear and insecurity. Although dismissal may be unrelated to performance, departing employees may feel demoralised, hurt and betrayed. Once again, it is essential that line managers and HR staff 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 the redundancies are complete, the final phase deals with resulting issues, such as impact on team morale, survivors’ guilt and new work responsibilities. Again, mediation skills can be used by managers and HR to resolve ensuing conflicts, to boost employee morale and to embed learning from the process.
Whilst reducing the budget deficit is at the top of the Government’s agenda, an appropriate plan needs to put in place to deal with the damage caused by redundancy. The ACAS Code of Practice, published last year, encourages and recommends the use of mediation as an effective means of resolving disputes informally and at an early stage.
Mediation is an effective tool in any public sector organisation’s dispute resolution portfolio, serving to reduce not only the emotional stress of workplace conflict due to redundancy, but also the economic and cost implications to public sector organisations throughout the UK.
Tip #1 Make time to listen
When redundancy is being considered, there is a greater demand on management time. Although redundancy procedures need to be followed, it is still vital to make yourself available to your team to answer questions and hear concerns. This can help resolve issues or reassure people at this difficult time – and may help to head off later unrest.
Tip #2 Consider the needs of your staff
There are likely to be feelings of anger and resentment amongst those selected for redundancy and this may bring about conflicts with others. Keep the lines of communication open, so that issues can be talked about and resolved for all parties involved.
Tip #3 Up-skill your managers with mediation training
Train your managers in mediation and conflict resolution skills to give them the practical tools and the confidence to manage workplace conflict.
Tip #4 Communicate the mediation approach across your organisation
Mediation means different things to different people. Let staff within your organisation know that managers are being trained in mediation skills to support employees in conflict. Position this message positively and focus on the benefits this will create for employees.
Tip #5 Appoint an external mediator for more complicated disputes
In certain situations where the conflict has escalated and the parties require further support, an independent, external mediator may be the best person to call upon.
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