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Employee Dispute Management

Blog by Shalav Daftuar's Management Consulting Team's Associate, Fatema Umrethwala

Employee disputes

Disputes or conflicts within employees are common. It can be in the form of a complaint, an argument or a disagreement between coworkers or an employer and an employee. With growing workforce diversity and differences in cultural background, disputes are bound to happen. No two people are similar. Hence, when a group of people working towards a common objective in a business come together, differences in priorities, interests, opinions and way of thinking are certain to clash leading to conflicts. The negative outcome to employee disputes could be decreased productivity, diminished quality of product/service, higher staff turnover rate or even termination.

Conflicts can be managed effectively by the organization either informally or formally. Most of the disputes are resolved informally by the superiors by communicating with the employee. Whereas, some conflicts require a formal intervention. In this method, an aggrieved employee goes through a process of grievance redressal system as per the company policies. In either case, a dispute should be managed well to avoid disruption of work.

Causes of employee disputes

A survey conducted by the Chartered Institution of Personnel and Development found that 4 out of 10 employees reported having experienced some kind of interpersonal conflict at their workplace within the past one year. It was also reported that the majority of conflicts occurred between an employee and his manager. Several causes were attributed to cause disputes among employees like-

  • Unfulfilled needs at workplace

  • Personality clashes

  • Personal differences due to age, gender or work methods

  • Unclear job roles

  • Inappropriate job placement of employees

  • Change in business systems like mergers and acquisitions or limited workforce

  • Poor communication and mismanagement of organizational change

Employees can help in avoiding workplace disputes or managing it effectively by dealing with issues promptly and creating a work culture with strong employee relations based on equality, fairness and respect to prevent conflicts as far as possible. Leaders are also expected to act on employee conflicts responsibly and quickly by approaching them at the right time, confronting them about their issues and also respecting the differences to avoid creating a disruptive chaos at work.

Managing disputes effectively

Workplace disputes are inevitable but with proper training and policies in place, it could be managed effectively.

  1. Make certain policies for dispute resolution and keep lines of communication clear to be open and transparent. Remember that conflict management is not the responsibility of managers alone, but all the employees are equally accountable.

  2. Do not ignore conflicts, instead understand the employee emotions attached to it and get a deeper understanding of the issue. Use appropriate methods to resolve conflicts to avoid any further negative consequences

  3. HR should develop and implement conflict policies and procedures and set specific guidelines on what should be done. Also conduct conflict management programs to train its employees to deal with it effectively.

  4. Employees should try to minimize or resolve conflicts at their level or within themselves rather than escalating it. This helps in enhancing their conflict management skills and also reduces their dependence on managers.

  5. Conflict management training should be given regularly to employees and HR to let them know what the company expects of them and what are the policies and guidelines to help them in attempting to resolve employee disputes.

Managing employee disputes can be tricky but with proper implementation of redressal systems and training, it can be dealt with successfully. Not every conflict should be expected to be handled by employees, this shows an ignorant behaviour on the part of management. Also, not every conflict requires a deep and thorough intervention but when a matter escalates or involves a potentially illegal behaviour, it should be immediately notified to the management. It could be a case of theft, physical violence, harassment or use of illegal substances.

Minimizing disputes

Conflicts can cause emotional stress that makes it more difficult to manage. There are multiple tools and techniques used in combination to create a friendly workplace environment. There can't be one solution to it. Employee disputes are unavoidable. So our aim should be to minimize disputes and focus on creating a positive atmosphere. This can be done by designing a framework to help organizations maintain a healthy and harmonious work culture.

  • Effective communication

Having an open door policy and encouraging employees to voice out their work related concerns to their seniors without any negative repercussions can go a long way in keeping conflicts at bay.

  • Written policies and procedures

It is vital for the company to have clear written policies, procedures and guidelines on how employee disputes will be solved. It also provides guidance to the employees or managers to act upon and provides a clear understanding of employment relationships.

  • Grievance redressal system

It is a system that is implemented to help employees resolve their issues quickly and fairly. The existence of a grievance redressal system gives employees the confidence to raise their concerns and a hope of an unbiased resolution.

  • Fair and effective management

A good management and strong leadership are better at resolving disputes quickly and tactfully.

  • Grievance metrics and reporting

Keeping a track of grievance reportings will give an idea into how a work environment is. Number of issues, their causes, time spent resolving them and the cost incurred due to them will help in identifying problems and implementing measures to minimize them and monitor them constantly.

Conflict should be accepted and dealt with not just to resolve a problem but also to detect opportunities. Conflicts are potential enablers of growth and can possibly benefit if viewed with a perspective to grow. The most mature relationships come out as a result of tension. Conflicts are a form of adversity, so instead of avoiding conflicts, embrace it and confront it wisely.

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