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Managing conflict: informal vs formal action

Napthens - May 4th 2021

We all have conflict in our lives, it’s a natural part of human behaviour and we are all unique, so it makes sense that with all those personalities mixing its bound to stir up some disagreements from time to time.

In some cases, you could argue that a level of conflict is good as it helps drive improved ways of working due to challenging behaviours and ideas, ensuring that only the best ideas succeed in order to support business development.

However, there are occasions when conflict can become an issue and it is important that businesses handle the matter correctly. So, at what point would a business manage the situation formally instead of informally?

Well it very much depends on the circumstances. Personality clashes are common in the workplace, but it is up to the individuals to recognise that they need to see past the dislike of a person in order to maintain a professional relationship with them. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen and this leads to conflict. So how are you expected to manage this?

In the first instance, when an employee reports conflict at work to you, you need to understand the root cause. This will need some investigation and some discussion with the other party. It is recommended where possible to try and resolve the matter informally, but it is always best to ask the individual how they would like the matter handled. Where they have agreed to an informal investigation, you would simply speak to the other party and get their opinion and where applicable witnesses. It is likely that the end result would be mediation between the two individuals to resolve the issue and allow them to move forward.

Mediation is a tried and tested method to resolve conflict and it can help individuals move on from whatever was causing the breakdown in relationship. It is important to note that the mediator ideally should trained in mediation. A mediation session is a safe space for the two individuals to air their differences in a controlled environment with the aim being to seek agreement on a resolution. That agreement is usually confirmed in writing to the individuals concerned.

In some circumstances conflict could result in more serious poor behaviour being displayed. In this situation, handling the matter through a formal procedure may be more appropriate.  So how do we do that and what should be consider? Below is a summary of a formal investigation process:

  • Employee raises formal grievance, usually this is done in writing but not essential and should not delay the business handling the matter.
  • Employee would be invited in writing to attend a formal grievance meeting with a nominated manager in the business and given the right to be accompanied.
  • Following the meeting the nominated manager will investigate their concerns, speaking to all relevant people.
  • An outcome will be provided to the individual in writing which also gives them the right of appeal should they not be happy with the outcome.

Where it is found that inappropriate behaviour is substantiated, the evidence collected as part of the grievance investigation can be used to handle the conduct matter of the other employee and used to invite the employee to a formal disciplinary meeting if necessary.

It is recommended that advice is sought when handling such matters to ensure that you have followed the correct process and that any proposed outcome is fair. Our HR3 team are available to guide you where necessary. In addition to this, the People Projects team are available to handle the matter on your behalf or in the capacity as HR support to reduce the risk and ensure you remain compliant. If you require any further information/support please contact us.