Find out more about dispute resolution, different types of conflict, why it is crucial to follow an effective dispute resolution process, and what steps it should include.
Conflicts can arise within your workplace and many other areas of your life, dealing with unresolved disputes can be damaging and stressful. Establishing an effective dispute resolution process can save you money, productivity and maintain a harmonious living and work environment. Let’s take a closer look.
What is Dispute Resolution?
A dispute is another word for a disagreement, problem or conflict. Dispute resolution is the process or techniques that people involved must go through to agree on unresolved issues. Independent negotiation can eliminate the need to go to court and subsequently reduce pressure on the judicial system. Some disputes can be settled informally and quickly, but in some cases, mediators can help with the arbitration process when the conciliation is difficult.
When people feel fairly treated, they are more likely to be engaged, productive and motivated.
Examples Of A Dispute
A dispute or conflict can occur when two or more parties disagree about an issue; it can be between citizens, organisations or government.
Often a disagreement will occur in the workplace and may be between employees and management or co-workers. Misunderstandings can escalate to conflicts.
Disputes occur between neighbours, it can be due to trees, fences or noise caused by loud machinery, cars or animals.
Members of organisations or clubs may disagree on rules, regulations or the outcome of competitions.
Separating couples may have disagreements that need to be resolved to finalise family matters.
Whether it’s a personality clash, poor communication, competitiveness, bullying, harassment or inappropriate behaviour, the occasions when a disagreement can occur are endless.
Types Of Dispute Resolution?
Finding an amicable solution to a disagreement may not always be straightforward. There are several ways that resolution of a dispute can occur:
- Independent negotiation – where involved parties come to their own agreement and resolve the issue themselves through discussion.
- Mediated outcome – parties come to a mutual understanding with the help of an independent, impartial person or mediator.
- Conciliation – a voluntary process where parties negotiate in an informal setting, similar to mediation but with an impartial person with more specialist workplace relations knowledge.
- Arbitration – a magistrates court or an arbitrator will decide on behalf of the parties, which will result in a binding order or judgement.
How Can Workplace Disputes Affect Your Business?
Unresolved disagreements in the workplace can quickly escalate into a dispute if not handled quickly and effectively. If left too long, it can cost your business money. Sales can be affected as staff may lose motivation, productivity and become disgruntled. Staff turnover and changes to your business’s efficiency may damage customer relationships and your business reputation. Your business may also need to cover expensive court and legal fees.
Maintaining a harmonious work environment is crucial to the success of your business, and effective dispute resolution processes can assist considerably.
What is Best Practice?
Best practice is an approach used by employers who have a fair, confidential, transparent and straightforward dispute resolution process to avoid, resolve, and manage workplace issues. Disputes are taken seriously, and issues are addressed quickly and effectively during mediation to prevent them from escalating.
How Is Best Practice Used?
Managing a workplace dispute can vary depending on the nature of the conflict and the individuals involved. Identifying key signs early can help to resolve the issue before it turns into a dispute. Signs are not always as evident as an argument between colleagues. They could manifest as changes in behaviour:
- An employee may lose their motivation
- The behaviour of an employee may change dramatically
- The productivity of the individual will decrease
- An employee may avoid the workplace altogether, which will result in increased absenteeism
How To Implement A Best Practice Approach
Once you have identified the signs of a conflict, you need to act quickly to deescalate the situation before it turns into a workplace dispute.
An effective way to be proactive and avoid workplace issues arising is to encourage open communication. Also, having clear guidelines established within your workplace. Employees know who to speak to about their grievances and what steps to take to defuse a situation. Regardless of the size of the business or organisation, transparent, honest and open communication is vital to a successful mediation.
Effective Change Management Strategy
Employees can become disgruntled and unsettled when changes occur in the workplace, which can result in disputes. Implementing an effective change management program before introducing changes can help avoid employees feeling confused, anxious and afraid about how the change will affect them. Good communication and open conversations prior can help to minimise any conflict that may arise. Management should offer a straightforward consultative approach explaining the change, advising how it will affect them and why it is necessary.
Get It In Writing
Establishing a written, clear workplace policy is vital as written contacts create clear guidelines and frameworks for employees and management. A written agreement eliminates uncertainty and ensures that the rules and policies of the workplace are understood and agreed upon. For businesses, it can save time and money and avoid legal action.
Managers within a business need to receive adequate training and coaching before attempting to resolve disputes within the workplace. They should be open, honest, and respectful during mediation. They need to guide the conversation with an open dialogue, establish key facts, and find ways to resolve the issue. Online courses are available to help participants prepare for the discussion.
Manage Complaints Proactively
Keeping your staff happy and motivated can positively impact your business. Handling a complaint quickly and efficiently will help identify an issue quickly and resolve it before it escalates. It will also reassure staff that their opinions are important.
The Fair Work Ombudsman provides an easy to follow best practice guide for use in your business.
Steps For An Effective Dispute Resolution Process
An effective resolution dispute process will essentially be the same regardless of the size or type of business. It is essential that an employee feels like they have a voice. They should feel secure that their manager will listen to their issue, take them seriously and help provide solutions to their problem. A dispute can be solved when both parties involved reach an agreement.
- Keep it simple – no need to over complicate matters. You do not want to overwhelm staff as it can hinder open conversation.
- Be sensitive – keeping a conversation confidential whilst reassuring the employee can help them speak honest and openly.
- Clarify – always reconfirm your understanding of the key facts and issues.
- Listen – encouraging open communication by listening effectively to the employee, as it can help them express their feelings and uncover the real issue.
- Define expectations – ensure that the employee knows that a resolution can occur and what steps will be taken.
- Next steps – if mediation does not resolve the issue, ensure that management and staff understand what happens next.
- Be consistent – employees need to be reassured that the process for resolving disputes will be the same wherever possible, providing consistency and objectivity. Organisational values will be adhered to when settling issues.
- Take action quickly – resolving a grievance quickly in a workplace can help avoid escalating an issue and save time and money for the business. Ongoing conflicts or distractions can demotivate staff, and efficiency can be affected. A prompt resolution of an issue also sends a message to employees that management will take them seriously.
- Transparency – providing employees with precise details about the process, steps, and potential outcomes can help to reassure them and provide encouragement.
Dispute Resolution Tips
- Establish a clear complaints policy and procedures manual that is accessible by all staff members.
- Create a culture of trust, honesty, respect and open communication in your workplace. Employees who feel safe are more likely to express their opinions freely.
- Ensure that managers and senior staff are trained to handle complaints effectively.
- Establish a simple way to report problems, perhaps a suggestion box, email address, or personal approach.
- Make sure that a few people on the management team are trained to handle complaints.
- Ensure that staff are aware that lodging a complaint will not result in retaliation or dismissal.
Getting Legal Help
Circumstances may occur where you are not able to resolve your disputes internally. Seeking the advice of a third party can help, as they will offer legal advice and suggest alternative dispute resolution options.
If you need to clarify your rights and obligations, you can seek advice from your industry or business association. They can provide a list of registered unions under the National Workplace Relations System.
If you are located in Victoria, the Dispute Settlement Centre provides free services across the state. They are a part of the Department of Justice and Community Safety and they provide alternative dispute resolution service assistance for people dealing with community issues.
The Fair Work Commission can provide informal mediation services as well as more information about the conciliation process.
Another alternative is seeking advice or help from the Fair Work Ombudsman. They can provide information, advice, resources, templates, and online courses to help resolve disputes. Their services include an online dispute resolution guide, which is available as a free resource for businesses.
Alternatively, an employee may seek legal advice from a law firm specialising in small claims. Under the Fair Work Act, a small claims process can recover any unpaid workplace entitlements or debts. A regular court proceeding can take more time and is more expensive than the small claims process. Settling disputes quickly and fairly this way is a popular alternative.
Dispute resolution is the process or techniques that people involved must go through to agree on unresolved issues. Often disputes can be settled informally and quickly, but in some cases, mediators need to help with the arbitration process when the conciliation is difficult.
Unresolved disagreements in the workplace can quickly escalate into a dispute if not handled quickly and effectively. Maintaining a harmonious work environment is crucial to the success of your business, and effective dispute resolution processes can assist considerably.
Circumstances may occur where you are not able to resolve your issue internally. Seeking the advice of a third party can help, as they will offer legal advice and suggest alternative dispute resolution options.
1. Why Is Dispute Resolution Important?
Answer: When people feel fairly treated, they are more likely to be engaged, productive and motivated. Keeping your staff happy and motivated can positively impact your business. Handling a complaint quickly and efficiently will help identify an issue quickly and settle it before it escalates, which will save you time and money.
2. What Are The Basic Types Of Dispute Resolution?
Answer: Finding an amicable solution to a disagreement may not always be straightforward. There are several ways that resolution of a dispute can occur. Appropriate fair and honest communication is necessary for all circumstances, whether it is negotiating independently, using a mediator or formal arbitration in a court environment.
3. What Is Dispute Resolution In The Workplace?
Answer: Unresolved disagreements in the workplace can quickly escalate into a dispute if not handled quickly and effectively. Maintaining a harmonious work environment is crucial to the success of your business, and effective dispute resolution processes can assist considerably. Best practice is an approach that uses employers who have a fair, confidential, transparent and straightforward dispute resolution procedure. Disputes are taken seriously, and issues are addressed quickly and effectively to prevent them from escalating.