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Guide

Managing conflict at work
A guide for line managers

Contents

Introduction Section 1 Managing conflict at work: a competency framework for line managers Section 2 Strong management, healthy conflict and the prevention of bullying Conclusion Further reading and references 2 4

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Managing conflict at work



Introduction

Managing conflict at work is becoming an increasing challenge for employers. In 2006–07 the number of individual employment disputes that resulted in employment tribunal applications increased to 132,577 compared with 115,039 for the previous year. The high number of claims is partly explained by the public’s increased awareness of employment rights and their recourse to litigation. ‘No win, no fee’ lawyers provide an avenue for disgruntled employees to lodge claims against their employer at no cost to themselves. In addition, the introduction of new employment legislation in the last few years has added to the challenges faced by employers. Since 2003 new regulation has come into force prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age, sexual orientation and religion and belief, adding to existing laws outlawing discrimination against people for reason of their race, sex or disability. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is also increasingly being seen as another avenue by employees to make claims against their employer for stress or bullying. The CIPD has welcomed the evolving legal framework as a means of promoting fair treatment and equality of opportunity at work. Organisations that embrace this agenda will gain from clear business benefits in terms of their employer brand and ability to attract and retain talent. However, changing ingrained prejudices and behaviours is not easy, so it’s essential that organisations develop clear policies and procedures underpinned by appropriate training for managers and employees, outlining organisational values, and the rights and responsibilities of individuals. The challenges associated with managing conflict at work have been exacerbated by the introduction in October 2004 of the Statutory Dispute Resolution Regulations, which introduced minimum standard three-step disciplinary and grievance procedures. The

principle behind the introduction of the Regulations – to ensure that employers and employees made every effort to resolve disputes in the workplace – was sound, but in practice the statutory procedures have led to a formalisation of how conflict at work is managed. The CIPD 2007 survey report Managing Conflict at Work shows that employers believe that the Regulations have generated more disciplinary and grievance procedures without reducing the number of employment tribunal applications made by disgruntled employees. It also shows that employers are more likely to rely on legal advice to resolve disputes since the introduction of the Regulations. The CIPD survey finds that organisations are increasingly relying on their HR departments to manage conflict as managers shy away from tackling disputes in case they do or say something that might be held against them during any formal proceedings. This approach is counterproductive, as by the time a dispute has escalated to the point where the disciplinary procedure has been triggered or a formal grievance lodged, opinions are often hardened and confrontational stances on both sides have developed that are very hard to change. To prevent this, it is essential that line managers have the skills, knowledge and confidence to identify and manage workplace disagreements, and bullying and harassment at an early stage. Line managers can be both the solution to, as well as the cause of, workplace disputes. The CIPD 2004 Managing Conflict at Work survey report found that line managers are most likely to be the source of bullying within organisations. Management style is also the number-one cause of stress at work according to the 2007 CIPD Absence Management survey report....
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