Should mandatory dispute resolution replace the grievance?

Conflict at work is inevitable. Whilst it can be creative and constructive – such as challenging norms to a receptive audience, more often; it is damaging! Conflict leads to stress, mental health issues, time off work and costs (in time and money) for employers and employees.

The cost of conflict to UK employers is is  £28.5 billion – or £1,000 for each employee. Early intervention in conflict saves money, time and promotes better wellbeing. It can avoid sickness absence, mental health deterioration and grievances.

We all know this.

The key to a healthy workplace are:

  • Communication – early and often;
  • Consultation at an early stage – whether about working practices, changes;
  • Collaboration between employees to facilitate engagement wherever possible;
  • Constructive dialogue – focusing on the positive as well, if necessary, the negative;
  • Conflict management training for managers;
  • Avoid grievances by grasping the nettle early.

So back to my bugbear – the grievance. 

This is an adversarial process, focussed on attributing blame and (sometimes) laying the ground for a tribunal claim.  Employees may have high expectations of the grievance, but most employers will be reluctant to make any admissions (about legal rights), leading to litigation. Unlike mediation, grievances are rarely about finding solutions.

Clearly, an employee needs a method of raising issues of concern with their employer, either to resolve the concern before entrenchment sets in or before considering any legal action. 

The word ‘grievance’ is about allegations, accusations, complaints. It is anything but neutral. It implies ‘blame’, and this is how it is usually treated. Replacing the word ‘grievance’ with ‘concern’ opens up the possibility of resolving the concern. This could be done as soon as the ‘concern’ arises and before things escalate.

A dispute resolution process could replace the formal grievance procedure, whether a discussion about the concern, a facilitated conversation, or mediation.  Failure to raise a grievance may lead to a tribunal reducing compensation as the law currently stands. 

Why not replace this with a failure to raise a ‘concern’ and engage with the resolution process.  It will need a straightforward process that ACAS is perfectly placed to provide.

Not all ‘concerns’ will be resolved, but the language is more about constructive dialogue and resolution instead of the blame game.

Let’s start the debate.

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