Conflict Resolution Policy
Conflict exists in every organization and to a certain extent indicates a healthy exchange of ideas and creativity. However, counter-productive conflict can result in employee dissatisfaction, reduced productivity, poor service to clients, absenteeism and increased employee turnover, increased work-related stress or litigation based on claims of harassment or a hostile work environment.
The conflict resolution policy should promote open communication and foster a safe environment for addressing differences of opinions. There should be a clear statement protecting employees from retribution for raising legitimate complaints and concerns using the conflict resolution process. Conflict resolution policies and procedures often implement a progression of interventions, escalating the involvement of management and formal procedures based on the seriousness of the conflict and the inability of the parties to resolve differences on their own. Unionized environments often use the formalized grievance procedure for conflict resolution, as dictated by the collective agreement.
Organizations have a legal responsibility to provide a harassment-free work place. Refer to your provincial human rights legislation regarding harassment and the work environment. A conflict resolution policy often provides a first step in dealing with harassment, though organizations typically address harassment complaints with a policy and set of procedures specifically designed for that purpose.
Alternative methods of conflict resolution
Methods of conflict resolution that can be included in your organization’s policy and procedures include:
An informal complaint process
The discussion of an issue with a supervisor to collaboratively understand and resolve work related issues with co-workers or the supervisor. The policy and procedures may outline specific steps and objectives, communication styles and behaviours that employees and supervisors should use in order to effectively resolve conflict.
A one-up review
A one-up review involves discussing the issue with the one-up supervisor, again to collaboratively understand and resolve work related issues.
A formal complaint process
A formal complaint process involves making a formal (written or oral) complaint to an appointed “conflict resolution manager” (often the HR professional on staff or the executive director), who then conducts an investigation of the complaint and recommends a resolution. It is important to outline how issues of confidentiality will be handled during this process. Confidentiality can be a particularly sensitive aspect of conflict resolution resulting from harassment complaints (refer to harassment policy guideline.) The final step in the process could be to involve the Board Executive. If doing so, it is advised that only one or two members be involved to maintain confidentiality and focus.
Mediation is a process involving an objective third party. The mediator (the objective third party) is often the HR professional on staff or another employee who is trained in conflict resolution, or can be an external professional mediator. The mediator guides the conflicting parties in considering alternative resolutions.
Arbitration is most commonly used in a unionized environment. Arbitration is a process involving a professional arbitrator who considers both sides of a conflict and issues a binding decision. Arbitration is a costly process, and as such may not be a viable option for many voluntary sector organizations. A cost benefit analysis should be conducted to determine the value of using arbitration, rather than other legal actions, to resolve conflict. Arbitration is a lengthy, difficult and costly process. At the end of the process, the parties have relinquished control to a third party and the prescribed resolution may be less than favourable. Arbitration should always be a last resort when resolution by every other possible means has reached an impasse.
The Canadian Department of Justice provides options for some of more common techniques of conflict management and dispute resolution.
Implementing conflict resolution
Conflict resolution is a skill based on good communication practices and an understanding of interpersonal dynamics – therefore, successful implementation of conflict resolution policies and procedures is often contingent on providing supervisors with appropriate training and coaching on the policy, procedures and interpersonal skills.