Re-building employment relations? Mediation, partnership, and the management of conflict


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  • Issue re last point – mediation something that tends to be viewed as an antidote to the problems caused by other ER processes as opposed to be seeing seen as a fundamental part of workplace relations.
  • Re-building employment relations? Mediation, partnership, and the management of conflict

    1. 1. Dr Richard Saundry
    2. 2.  Increased scope and complexity of legal regulation – growing prevalence of litigation Spread of formal grievance and disciplinary procedures Erosion of trade union organisation and increased emphasis on individual representation Changing nature of the HR function away from „regulatory‟ role Informal processes of workplace dispute resolution under increased pressure
    3. 3.  Evidence of high success rates and sustainable early resolutions Financial savings – absence, exit, litigation and costs cf traditional processes Less adversarial and confrontational approach Some evidence of „upstream‟ benefits ◦ Improved skills in conflict handling (Bingham, 2004) ◦ Better employer/employee relationships (Sergeant, 2005) ◦ Development of organisational culture (CIPD, 2008)
    4. 4.  Focus on capacity of mediation to assist the resolution of specific disputes Narrow consideration of dispute resolution rather than conflict management Inadequate attention given to the relationship between mediation and other employment relations processes Differences in types of disputes and processes underplayed Little consideration as how mediation affects the relations between key workplace actors
    5. 5.  Single case study NHS Primary Care Trust In-house mediation scheme introduced in 2008 Methodology ◦ Examination of documentation, policies and procedures ◦ 19 semi-structured interviews with mediators, managers and trade union representatives ◦ Analysis of statistics regarding disputes and staff attitudes
    6. 6.  History of organisational flux and uncertainty High levels of conflict in certain parts of the organisation Adversarial low-trust relationships‘There wasnt a partnership…It was a them and us, batter the barricades the old fashioned way. If there was a problem just hit it head on’ (Trade union representative)‘there was a really typical confrontational conflict management style...there was an ‘us and them,’ management versus staff- side situation.’ (Operational manager)
    7. 7.  Grievance procedure – used by trade union to contest managerial prerogative Management – reactive and defensive Operation of both disciplinary and grievance procedures– zero-sum game „Well, the aim was drag it out as long as you can because theyll get peed off and theyll start throwing money at it....I was at a point where management had wound me up that many times, I didnt care whose grievance it was. Sometimes Id say Id say Ive got to go back and have a go at these people‟.
    8. 8.  Key representatives targeted as mediators Initial moves towards partnership High levels of scepticism over mediation „I went along to the workshop… the lead convenor at the time…wrote…on my copy of the workshop notes, “What a load of bollocks” was regarded with great suspicion because some union representatives felt it was a way for management to pull the union‟s teeth.‟ Proposal to introduce mediation seen as a management ploy to reduce union influence Eventual agreement to train as mediators
    9. 9.  Operational management ◦ Threat to authority – disciplinary issues ◦ Sceptical about union involvement ‘If they *managers+ felt, for example, it was a potential disciplinary situation why would they want to mediate? Would they be conceding when they actually think they should be disciplining the member of staff? Are they giving up their power as a manager? HR ◦ Potential to resolve difficult issues ◦ Concern over undermining of role
    10. 10.  Training crucial„I never wanted to go into a room and believe that the manager at any point in any kind of dispute was right...mediation gets people to sit in the other persons shoes’ (Union rep) Union reps not only trained as mediators but given co-ordination role Promotion Evidence of successful outcomes‘Anything that can bring two people together, without having to go down formal processes...if you can break it down before then, it’s got to be a good thing.’ (Union rep)
    11. 11.  High success rates in individual disputes referred to mediation (96%) ◦ Significant savings (approx £300k est.) ◦ Generally limited to inter-personal disputes Some evidence of reduction in ET claims Shift away from conventional formal process ‘the other week a grievance did come through and that was a fairly new rep and I was just able to pick up the phone to her and just say, you know, sort of like, why’s this grievance in when we’re part way through? …can we not mediate this?’ (HR manager)
    12. 12.  Reduction in grievances and fair treatment cases ‘...we’d no grievances, no case work involving grievances, so to my mind that does say something…. I think mediation is now the first port of call: let’s see if we can sort it without going into any sort of policy and procedure.’ (HR manager) Less evidence in respect of disciplinary cases Resolution focussed approach to disputes ‘I’m not fussed about how we get to a resolution of things...If I can phone HR, or a manager, and say ‘Can we talk about this before we go into a formal meeting?’ then I’ll do that.’ (TU rep)
    13. 13.  Improved employment relations since the introduction of mediation scheme Less adversarial approach to individual conflict Crucial element of strengthened partnership working Potential impact in regard to collective issues – response to NHS restructuring Some evidence of improved indicators re sickness, turnover and staff attitudes
    14. 14.  Support for mediation from union reps outside scheme Evidence of increased union density and influence Little evidence of weakened representative role – improved outcomes for membersSome people have this perception, oh well you’re collusive. You know, you’re working with managers; you’re in their pockets. But at the end of the day, from my perspective, it’s improving the quality of life of the staff’ (Union rep)
    15. 15.  In-house mediation can provide a channel through which attitudes and behaviours of key actors are challenged and transformed Consequent changes in the management of conflict ◦ Strengthening of informal processes of resolution ◦ Development of more trusting employer-union relations ◦ Partnership and mediation closely intertwined Active involvement of all stakeholders central to success ◦ involvement of union key in transmitting change Concerns over sustainability and question mark over relevance to different organisational contexts Need for renewed focus on workplace relations as opposed to overriding focus on process and systems