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Does your grievance policy allow for power imbalance?

Nearly every organisation has its own grievance policy and process for employees as the first level of managing conflict. Typically, the proposition these policies aim for is to encourage anyone who finds themselves in a conflict with a work colleague, to try to resolve the conflict with the other party themselves. The key words are generally something similar to ‘ at the lowest level ’, meaning it should be handled between the people with the conflict rather than bringing others into the issue. In other words, nobody wants things to escalate unnecessarily.  Everyone understands the sentiment; however, this approach seems to ignore the reality of power imbalance which inevitably occur in larger organisations in particular. Is it realistic to expect that a relatively junior employee who feels in conflict with a senior staff member for example, that they would simply schedule a grievance meeting and have the problem resolved?

I was working with a large government utility recently and employees were asked if they had the confidence to raise an issue of conflict in their workplace. 21% said they would not do it often because of a fear of reprisal and/or being forced to move to another area.  70% said they had experienced conflict at work and 40% said they did not take any action about it.

The conclusion to be drawn is that simply having a policy or a recognized process in place will often be insufficient when dealing with a conflict within the workplace. Some thinking needs to be done about improving the culture of the workplace so that everyone understands how the process or policy can be implemented fairly and transparently without fear or favour, regardless of the positions that people hold within the organisation. This needs a significant amount of work from qualified professionals who can assist develop the framework to genuinely allow people to raise a grievance and have it dealt with in a mature and professional manner. Not adopting this approach risks the loss of up to 1/5 of your workforce which at a time of such low unemployment is not a smart strategy.

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