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Keys to Raising the Bar in the Workplace

Recognizing and Managing Workplace Conflict

Thomas Resolutions offers strategies and assists with resolving conflict or disputes that occur within the workplace between an employer and employee, between one employee and another or between an employee of a company and an agent or representative of an external company, a situation often created by a contractual obligation. Because of the breadth and diversity of our experience with employers and having processed over a thousand employment discrimination investigations, we bring unique insights which we are able to quickly apply to help identify potential problem areas as to policy and workplace relationships. We are able to help resolve disputes efficiently and effectively through mediation, conflict coaching, executive coaching, collaborative decision making; and, as a last resort arbitration.

In our many years of experience working with employees and employers, we have been presented with employer and employee issues such as different terms and conditions of employment: failure to hire, failure to transfer, failure to promote, and issues involving religion, disability, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, and discipline, including wrongful or involuntary termination. The bases of these issues are sometimes perceived as race, color, gender, national origin, age, or retaliation.

Our approach at Thomas Resolutions is to help the organization quickly and effectively neutralize this situation. We identify indicators of potential conflict or disputes and attack the problem immediately to minimize the escalation of the activity. The indicators analyzed may be certain formal and informal policies, practices, or behaviors such as bantering between employees or other non-work oriented conversation. Such activity may be subtle to the untrained eye and on the surface very innocent, but highly recognizable to the human capital professional as a potential problem area. To the extent the dispute is appropriately clarified and laid to rest before it has time to permeate the work environment and disrupt the workplace, everyone wins, both the employer and the employee.

In addition, as strong advocates of proactive and voluntary measures to not only comply with established employment laws, rules, and regulations, we believe there is significant cache for an organization when the organization voluntarily initiates and sustains practices which are fair, equitable, and profitable to the organization as well as to the individual employee. We work with employers to ‘get it right’ from the beginning in the recruitment, selection and hire process, for example. Where the needs and requirements of the organization, the expectations and standards of performance of employees is explicitly communicated and implemented, fewer legitimate conflicts arise regarding human capital, human equity and diversity concerns of both employers and employees alike.

What Employers Can Do

Each employee has his or her own motivations for working based on his or her own needs, values, and goals. Employees at a minimum spend about one third (33 1/3%) of their lives in the workplace. And, most Americans do perform some type of work for which they receive pay. That said, it is no wonder that the workplace can provide an ideal setting for differences to surface and disagreements to arise. That factor in and of itself is not the issue. The issue is whether the employer is willing, able, and has the skills sets and resources to address the conflicts that arise in a fair and equitable manner.

To accomplish this goal employers should have clear and comprehensive policies and procedures, training and guidance available to all employees, new and incumbent. This helps accurately convey to the employee the organization’s goals and objectives, its culture and expectations as to the performance of individuals, teams and units. Further, the employer should provide ongoing information and feedback to employees on their contribution and the role they play in the overall achievement of the mission and goals of the organization. Standards and procedures that directly impact the livelihood and opportunity of an employee for advancement within the organization should be communicated during the hire-in process and , thereafter, periodically so that everyone has a clear understanding of the ‘rules of the game’ and where to turn for additional assistance and information. This is where the internal and informal programs for professional development and training, succession planning and promotion should be articulated in multiple venues and multiple mediums. The knowledge, skill, and abilities required to ‘move up’ and to receive official recognition in terms of bonuses, honors and awards should be clear, precise and consistently applied. Both the standards and process should be transparent. This can help prevent rumors, misconceptions, misperceptions, and distrust among employees and between the employer and the employee, including at the supervisory and managerial level.

Training as a Universal Solution to Employer and Employee Conflict

Our experience as trainers or providers of training for individual employees, and employers, including the administration of the TAP’s (Technical Assistance Program for Employers) at the US EEOC, confirms that often training is perceived as the panacea for all ills. It is not. Further, training does not necessarily guarantee promotions and upward mobility or improvement of performance. However, what it does accomplish is this. Individuals have an opportunity to prepare themselves to be more competitive in their current positions, to acquire the knowledge, skill, and experience to apply for and be considered for promotion, and to enhance the quality of performance of teams and organizations whether the mission is product or service oriented. Too often, however, especially when employees are asked to ‘train’ employees who are new to an organization, the employee-trainer sometimes assumes that he or she is better qualified than the new person and that if their knowledge, skill, and performance qualify them to ‘train,’ it should also entitle them to the next level job. This sometimes means the job for which a ‘new employee’ has been hired and the incumbent employee has been asked to train.

Employers and employees have an obligation to be clear and consistent in what requirements exist for internal ‘employee trainers’ and what benefits and or rewards do or do not accrue to the employee trainer. Good employees do not necessarily make good trainers, and good trainers are not necessarily the best qualified for a particular job or promotion, simply as a result of the training they may be asked to perform for one facet of a job, on a one-time basis, and which they may perform quite well. Many other variables determine hiring and promotion also; they can include such things as budget, position availability, program sustainability, and other needs and priorities of the organization.

It is the responsibility of the employer to make such matters clear and accessible to the employee workforce. As importantly, it is critical that the employer makes consistent and credible decisions which demonstrate the integrity of the standards and process for decision making as applied to everyone. When and if deviations from policy and procedure are required, an appropriate notification should be shared with the workforce in advance of the change or at the earliest time feasible. Otherwise, employees may be demoralized, retention adversely impacted over time, and the internal and external image of the organization comprised.

What Employees Can Do

Employees must be well informed, read and review policies and distributed information about the organization, inquire of knowledgeable sources such as human capital personnel, employee organizations, and management and supervisory staff. Conjecture, speculation, and inappropriately personalizing organizational decisions are counter-productive.

Additionally, employees must be forthright and inform the appropriate management representative or other appropriate party of their concerns early on. Be well informed, ask specific questions, and willing to objectively weigh the information provided before arriving at a conclusion as to the fairness, or equity of the action. To do otherwise is to the disadvantage to all concerned, and rather than ‘resolve’ the issue such action can serve to further complicate and accelerate a legitimately sensitive situation.