Talent management report

Avoiding and resolving workplace disputes in the public service

When things go wrong as they sometimes will, it’s best to have a robust dispute resolution environment in place. Unresolved workplace disputes present a significant drain on an organisation through increased absence, consumption of management time and potentially the departure of individuals who no longer believe they can remain working in that environment, writes RSM Director Declan Walsh.

It is of paramount importance that organisations do their utmost firstly to avoid disputes arising, and secondly to deal with such matters as and when they arise in an efficient and appropriate fashion.

At RSM Ireland we recommend a three-pronged approach comprising:

  • Avoiding disputes through awareness and early intervention — ‘Green Zone’
  • Resolving disputes through Mediation/Facilitation — ‘Amber Zone’
  • Resolving disputes through Investigation — ‘Red Zone’

Avoiding disputes through awareness and early intervention

While the bedrock of a good employee relations environment is a robust set of policies and procedures, it is only through awareness that an organisation and its staff truly reap the benefits.

We recommend two forms of training. Firstly, raising awareness among staff of the organisation’s policies and procedures in a particular area, for example dignity at work or protected disclosures. Secondly, training those who are part of the resolution cohort so that they understand their role and are equipped to deal sensitively and efficiently with matters that are brought to them. 

It is crucial that staff know where to go to voice their issues or concerns and know that those matters will be dealt with in a fair and transparent fashion. Poor communication can exacerbate what could otherwise have been a readily resolvable matter and result in a loss of trust in the organisation. Never underestimate the power of conversations with staff.

Resolving disputes through mediation/facilitation

These ‘amber space’ activities involve assisting the parties in a dispute to work together to find a way forward in a non-confrontational and less formal manner.

The informal nature of such processes means they can usually be commenced swiftly – something that is in everyone’s interests.

By bringing the parties together to seek a resolution, the outcomes are more likely to be successful, lead to reparation of the relationship and/or facilitate the parties in working together into the future.

It is crucial the organisations have informal processes of this nature incorporated in their dispute resolution procedures.

Resolving disputes through investigation

Unfortunately, not all disputes lend themselves to informal resolution processes, perhaps due to the sensitive

nature of the allegation, for example sexual harassment or bullying.

In such instances the organisation must have procedures in place to allow for the appointment of an investigator, preferably with the flexibility to appoint either independent internal or external persons, at short notice. The negative environment caused by disputes in the workplace tends to deteriorate with the passage of time.

It is imperative that staff who are designated to undertake investigations have been properly trained and are fully au fait with the organisation’s procedures and the principles of natural justice.

Any investigative process is only as strong as its weakest link. Parties unsatisfied with the outcome can be expected to re-examine the approach in order to identify any procedural missteps which could be used to overturn the outcome.

Our overwhelming experience is that organisations who proactively encourage staff to speak up about issues they are encountering, and take appropriate steps to deal with issues as they arise, experience a more engaged workforce, higher levels of productivity and reduced instances of red-zone activity.

RSM are Ireland’s 8th largest firm specialising in audit, tax, consulting and transaction advice. Our Forensic and Investigation Services unit brings together experts in dispute resolution, investigation, protected disclosures, litigation support, employment law, cyber forensics and tax.

RSM are on Public Service Frameworks for External Workplace Investigation Services, Protected Disclosure Investigation Services and Protected Disclosure Training. We have an established track record working with the Public Service.

T: +353 (0)1 496 5388
E: info@rsmireland.ie
W: www.rsmireland.ie

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