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6 Steps to Successful Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Follow these tips to create and use an employee grievance policy for dealing with conflict in the workplace.

In our last article, we discussed what defines a grievance, how to create a grievance policy and how to implement it. This article provides an in-depth guide on the steps managers should take when handling an employee grievance. No workplace is perfect, nor is it immune to employee conflicts. What do you do when employees have concerns about their responsibilities, working conditions or coworkers?

It’s important to be proactive, rather than reactive, with employee issues. With a step-by-step employee grievance process, you can ensure your employees are treated fairly and promptly when they hit a snag. Plus, if workers feel they are heard — and their concerns are addressed – they’re much less likely to seek legal action.

A proper and productive employee grievance process should include these six essential steps:

Step 1

Employee Discusses Complaint with Immediate Supervisor

In addition to having an open-door policy with your employees, encourage staff to share the specific incident with their immediate supervisor within five business days of its occurrence. If the situation can’t be resolved at this point – or the employee feels uncomfortable speaking to the manager about the matter – the employee should proceed to Step 2.

Employee Grievance Policy

Step 2

Employee Submits a Written Complaint to a Second-Level Manager

With this step, the employee submits a formal written complaint for review by a designated senior manager (or human resources representative, if your company has an HR department). Whenever possible, this written complaint should be submitted within seven business days of the first discussion — or seven days of the incident if Step 1 is skipped. Also, you may want to set up a designated email address for staff to submit their concerns privately.

Step 3

Senior Manager Holds a Meeting with Employee

A meeting between the senior manager (or HR representative) and the employee should be held within five business days of receiving the written complaint. This meeting provides an opportunity for the senior manager and the employee to discuss the complaint in depth. (If appropriate, the employee’s immediate supervisor may also attend.) The senior manager should take detailed notes, as well as reassure employees that the complaint will be kept as confidential as possible. This wording is important, because you can’t guarantee confidentiality since you may have to question other employees involved in the situation or who witnessed relevant events.

Step 4

Senior Manager Investigates the Complaint

Depending on what comes up in the previous meeting, the designated senior manager may need to explore the complaint further. This may require interviewing coworkers or reviewing related paperwork. Thorough documentation is essential for formulating a resolution. Therefore, the senior manager must put all the latest details surrounding the complaint in writing. If other staff members are interviewed, the manager must store copies of the documentation regarding the conversations in both employee files — the employee making the complaint and the employee who was interviewed. Although this step has no time limit, it’s a good idea to provide regular updates so the employee knows that the investigation is underway and that you are actively working on resolving the complaint.

Step 5

Document the Decision or Resolution

After the situation is thoroughly examined, the senior manager will need to reach a decision or resolution. There’s no “one size fits all” with employee concerns. Every situation is different, so every resolution is different. Again, document the plan of action – and keep a copy of the documentation in the employee’s file.

Step 6

Share the Decision with the Employee

Now it’s time for the senior manager to meet with the employee to talk about the final decision and what happens next. This one-on-one meeting is a crucial part of the process. The senior manager should point out that they heard the employee’s concerns, took the issue seriously and that reached an appropriate resolution.

Grievance Procedures In the Workplace

Legal Tips to Cut Through the Conflict Resolution Process:

  • Put your grievance policy in writing (outlining the steps in this article) and include it in your employee handbook.
  • Feel free to indicate a desired timeframe for the process, but add the phrase “whenever possible” to the wording so that you are not locked into specific dates.
  • Have employees sign an acknowledgment that they received and understood the policy.
  • Keep in mind that harassment/discrimination or workplace injuries are more serious legal issues and require their own policies and procedures.
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