“I asked her how she was coping and she just said, “I’m fine”, so as her manager how am I meant to help her get through this grievance process?” 

When workplace conflict arises amongst colleagues, communication lines often shut down quickly. It’s a natural response for an employee to feel guarded, withdrawn and defensive in a conflict situation, especially once a grievance process is underway.

I am an accredited mediator who works with businesses to help them prevent and manage workplace conflict amongst employees, from the boardroom to the factory floor. I recommend having policies and protocols in place to ensure that grievance processes can be avoided if at all possible. Grievances can serve a crucial purpose but all too often they are a blunt tool for dealing with complex and sensitive interpersonal problems.

Other methods exist to address the underlying causes of disputes, methods which actually restore working relationships, rather than leaving colleagues feeling alienated and demotivated by the aftermath of a complaint process.

From my experience as a workplace and employment mediator I recommend that businesses consider these tips for restoring employees’ good working relations and effective performance: 

  • Develop a policy of offering early resolution in interpersonal disputes: many businesses are now seeking to replace grievance processes with solution-focussed interventions which focus on understanding what went wrong, and then deciding how to work together in the future as appropriate.
  • Continue to offer line manager training: All too often, HR is called upon to solve the problem, but well-trained line managers can be invaluable in supporting colleagues and coaching them in dealing with workplace difficulties.
  • Consider that health and wellbeing may be a factor behind a workplace conflict: Mind, the mental health charity, offers free Wellness Action Plans templates online. They are a great resource that an employer and employee can use together to help the person remain well in work.
  • Take a team development approach: shining the light on two disputing colleagues can exacerbate problems but helping a team refresh its working protocols can help individuals iron out working difficulties collectively. 
  • Call in a mediator: it can be helpful to invite an external mediator to work confidentially and impartially with individuals to help them clear the air and restore good working relations. 

Arabella Tresilian is fully-accredited as a Workplace & Employment Mediator by the Centre for Effective Dispute Mediation. To find out more about Arabella’s services visit the Contact page or email arabella@arabellatresilian.com

Recommended further reading on managing workplace conflict: