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Posted 02 December 2009

More assertive employees, better informed about rights, a key influence behind conflict resolution practices at firms

Report to Labour Relations Commission on managing workplace conflict

Growing assertiveness among employees, with a higher awareness of employment rights, is reported as one of the key motivations behind (70%) of firms developing conflict resolution practices in the workplace.

Based on survey responses from over 500 managers in firms based in Ireland (employing 20 people or more), researchers from University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast have identified three key influences behind firms establishing conflict resolution practices.

The primary reason is to be able to resolve workplace conflict in-house (93.7%). The second is to develop a less adversarial industrial relations climate in the firm (84.5%). And the third is to respond to an expanding body of legislation providing employees with individual employment rights (76.9%).

30% of firms reported the cost of managing conflicts as too high. And 66% of firms recognised that there was a need for practices that resolved problems more quickly.

“No organisation is immune to workplace conflict,” says UCD’s Bill Roche, Professor of Industrial Relations and Human Resources in the UCD School of Business, one of the researchers who conducted the study on behalf of the Labour Relations Commission.

“It can occur in big firms or small firms, multinational organisations or domestically owned firms and unionised or non-union organisations.”

78.5% of firms reported having a formal written policy on individual grievances. But less then half (42.9%) have a formal written policy to deal with contentious issues involving groups of employees.

Foreign owned firms are more likely than their Irish counterparts to have formal written grievance procedures, and they are also more likely to use external experts.

Although fewer firms have a written policy on group-based grievances, the use of mechanisms for resolving group based disputes is more widespread.

Less than 1 in 10 firms reported having any of the following innovative practices to handle grievances involving individual employees: employee hotlines; employee advocates; management review panels; company ombudspersons; and peer review panels.

According to the report, there has been limited diffusion of innovative practices, commonly known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) practices, to solve workplace conflict. It also identifies that a significant number of firms possess an external dimension to their workplace conflict management systems, with the Labour Relations Commission and other external experts featuring strongly in the results.

“Notwithstanding the growing interest that has been shown in Ireland in ADR techniques and the sharp growth that has arisen in recent years in the numbers of people offering their services as mediators, conciliators and ‘trouble-shooter’ of various kinds, significant numbers of workplaces still lack basic traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution, much less the kinds of modern ADR practices commonly now seen as constituting best practice,” says Professor Roche.

“Firms want to ensure that conflict is addressed quickly within the organisation, and that practices ensure a cooperative organisational culture, meet legal obligations and allow them to keep on the right side of the law.”


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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More assertive employees, better informed about rights, a key influence behind conflict resolution practices at firms