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  • Writer's picture2020 HR

Taking the grief out of grievances – resolution not conflict

All employers need to have a grievance policy that complies with ACAS Code of Practice but many find that these policies cause as many issues as they solve, if not more. Why is this?

I firmly believe that the language we use sets the tone and expectations when dealing with people matters. One dictionary definition of grievance is “a real or imagined cause for complaint, especially unfair treatment”. The word itself focuses on the complaint and the unfair treatment. It focuses on the past event(s) rather than the future. It’s an adversarial word that sets a tone of conflict not resolution.

The word ‘grievance’ conjures a sense of getting a wrong righted but, in my experience, things are rarely that simple – there are normally a mixture of contributing factors which result in someone feeling dissatisfied with how they perceive they are being treated. Many times the individual who feels dissatisfied has contributed to the situation yet the tone of many grievance policies imply that once a complaint has been submitted, some mythical entity (usually HR) will wave a magic wand and make everything go away for that individual. This rarely is the right or most likely outcome of following a grievance process. There is no emphasis on the individual having some responsibility for working together to find an appropriate and positive resolution to the situation.

I want to be clear that I am not talking about allegations of bullying, harassment or victimisation – these are more appropriately dealt with using a different approach, usually a disciplinary investigation beginning with establishing what evidence the individual has to substantiate any allegation.

Removing the word ‘grievance’ from your grievance policy can help manage your people’s expectations. One organisation I worked with needed a policy review and I developed a one page policy where the word ‘grievance’ only appears once (making reference to compliance with ACAS Code of Practice). Instead, it was titled ‘Resolving work-related issues or concerns’.

When the language focus is on resolution and positive outcomes, people better understand that the outcome may not be black and white. It highlights the need for the individual to be a part of the solution and removes the expectation that the solution they want will be magically imposed. It moves the focus on to how to move things forward rather than dwelling on the past.

In this reviewed policy, people were encouraged to submit details of their concerns including how they believe it could be appropriately resolved. Doing this means that you can understand their expectations upfront which allows you to manage these expectations if they are unrealistic.

It allows you to prepare for the first meeting considering other potential resolutions rather than having to think of them on the hoof in the first meeting. It also means that, if the resolution is a simple one to achieve (e.g. if a simple error has been made that can be corrected), it could remove the need for a protracted process that takes up time and causes an unnecessary distraction from what you need your people to be doing in the workplace.

People assume organisations and managers are perfect and should not make mistakes but, sometimes, we all make mistakes. If your people are confident that these mistakes will be corrected without having to go through a protracted process, they will have more trust and be more engaged.

Another advantage of making the individual propose early doors what they see as an appropriate course of action to resolve their concerns is that it makes them think about what they are asking for in a more considered manner. Unhappy people can often have an emotional knee-jerk reaction to any situation where they feel they have been wronged.

If an individual has to write down that they want someone sacked or another extreme response, they are forced to consider the impact of what they are asking for. I genuinely believe most people are not unnecessarily vindictive and this moment of reflection may just help them to manage their own expectations before the process formally begins.

Where your people understand that your main aim of the application of people policies is to ensure everyone is happy and feels valued, they will have more confidence in the process and are more likely to engage positively in focussing on resolution rather than the concern itself.

The tone of your policies helps to define and embed your organisation’s culture and values. If you need assistance in developing positive policies that help not hinder your business, get in touch.

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