What can you do if conflict is making your workplace a misery?

Posted on: 16th January, 2014

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

Longer hours and new roles are taking their toll on the Irish workforce, but coupled with constantly changing technology and job insecurity, many people are reaching breaking point. People are often made to feel they should be grateful to have a job, however, it is hard to appreciate having work if you’re involved in a conflict in your workplace.

If you are caught up in a dispute with a colleague or management, you are not alone.  All of the Government bodies dealing with work related issues have seen a huge increase in complaints over recent years. In these difficult times, when everyone is under greater pressure, minor issues can escalate into serious and damaging disputes if not resolved.

We spend an average of around 57 per cent of our lives at work so it’s important for our mental health and overall well-being that it’s a positive place to be. The Health and Safety Authority of Ireland has found that workplaces, which have good communications, respectful relations and healthy systems of work tend to get the best results in achieving a healthy and productive workforce. Whilst conflict can be an unavoidable and normal element of life, conflict that becomes destructive is one of the biggest avoidable costs in the workplace.

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace. Under section 8 of the Act your employer is required to’prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk’.  Similarly, employees have a duty not to engage in improper behaviour, which would endanger the health, safety and welfare of themselves or the other employees. Employers should also have written grievance and disciplinary procedures which outline how issues will be dealt with when they arise. Whatever approach is used to handle workplace disputes, it needs to allow the people involved to resolve the issue and plan how they will engage in the future. (To find out more about employment rights visit www.citizensinformation.ie/en/employment).

One of the options to address conflicts in the workplace is through mediation, which offers new possibilities by promoting understanding, building cohesion and focusing on the future rather than the past. No longer seen as an ‘alternative’ dispute resolution, mediation has become the preferred process for addressing conflict in successful organisations. Legislation due to be introduced in early 2014 will see many disputes diverted from the courts as the Government encourages and promotes the use of mediation.

So, what is mediation? Mediation is a voluntary process of conflict prevention and resolution that allows the parties an opportunity to address their issues in a confidential, private, and safe environment. Mediators are trained in conflict resolution skills and techniques and have the expertise needed to give people the best possible opportunity to resolve their disputes. Mediation is generally a much speedier process than more formal disciplinary or grievance procedures and can often be completed within a matter of days. Mediation provides an opportunity for more creative and innovative approaches to solving issues, that can lead to a solution which meets the needs of all those involved. Where an agreement is reached, this is kept confidential unless those involved choose otherwise, and it may be legally enforced.

If a mediation does not result in an agreement, the contents of the discussion remains confidential, and the those involved may take up, or return to, any alternative grievance procedure they choose, without the mediation affecting that procedure in any way. So it is a very low risk option.

There are many approaches to addressing workplace disputes and mediation can be requested by anyone concerned even if it is not given as an option in an employer’s existing procedures. Most importantly employees need to know they can take action before difficulties escalate, and find ways to secure a positive working environment.

Harriet Emerson and Rachel O’Sullivan are Certified Mediators at adjust. For more information call 087 650 8664, e-mail: info@adjust.ie or visit www.adjust.ie.

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