I have listened to some interesting debates about the likely impact of the Supreme Court's ruling in the summer that charging claimants to bring a claim before the Employment Tribunal is unlawful. Will we see the 79% drop in cases following the imposition of the fees be immediately reversed or perhaps the number of new cases will increase even further?
I see this as a real opportunity for employers and employees to rethink how they are addressing workplace conflict - let's be honest - it is usually in neither party's interest to head down to the ET and ask them to settle a dispute? The recent article in People Management entitled 'There's more than one way to solve a dispute' made the point that mediation skills should now be seen as an essential part of any manager's toolkit - in the way that coaching skills are. So how do we achieve the shift in mindset that this requires?
One option is for those who have used a mediation approach to publicize within their organizations how it helped (assuming it did!) It never fails to amaze me how many of the meditations that I do, close with the parties saying something like 'If only we had had this conversation 8 months ago, we could have saved ourselves so much pain and upset.'
Another option is for organisations to make a significant cultural change and tear up their 'Grievance Policies' and replace them with something such as 'Resolving Workplace Disputes'. This is not just a question of semantics - it encourages a change in mindset by the party feeling aggrieved from 'I have an official complaint' to one of 'How might I resolve this issue?'
How many of those cases that head to the ET, or are settled with an expensive compromise agreement, could have been sorted out at an early stage with an open and honest conversation? We won't know unless we try. So, in answer to the question I raised in the title of this blog - my response is a resounding yes!
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