Work conflicts - how to solve and anticipate them

Sep 25 • Ilona Nurmela • Comments: 0
Employment terminations. “Do you need someone else, with a completely different skill set to do the job that I am doing now?” was a question one of my co-workers and subordinates asked me during a performance assessment. My honest answer was “yes”. Since I had prepared the documents with the HR for a potential exit already, I produced an array of options the company was offering. As a result, a week later, the company and the employee parted ways on amicable terms. Well, at least no one sued anyone, so the severance payout to the employee must have been satisfactory and the legal side held up.

Letting someone go is never an easy decision. As a former manager, I’ve had my share of mistakes with those whose exits I negotiated. I could have managed the expectations of some of them better throughout our working relationship. The good thing is, we learn from our mistakes. I could have communicated company requirements better to others also outside of our bi-annual performance reviews. These are essential at anticipating and avoiding exit disputes. The 3rd essential thing to help avoid exit disputes is to involve the HR nice and early, even when just contemplating what to do with an employee who is not performing in their current job - whether to transfer him/her  to another position that would play to his/her strengths, or whether to exit the person (and HOW best to do it for all involved) so the person can find a job they enjoy and the company can find a person best fit for the job. Last, but not least, every company would definitely benefit from having an approach to managing work conflicts a. So that things do not go horribly wrong and b. For when things do go horribly wrong.

As a former manager, as a former employee of many firms and as legal counsel I have been involved in resolving poorly handled terminations and have also otherwise heard of spectacularly mishandled exits. Disgruntled employees suing their former companies for unfair dismissal after their direct managers have botched up the letting go process because they did not involve HR. Employees let go due to incompetency reasons trying to blackmail the company with court action in order to negotiate better conditions of exit. Employees collecting every scrap of evidence that can be construed as sexual harassment to blackmail a better deal for themselves for the inevitable event of them being let go for poor performance and doing this systematically in every job they take.

The cost of mistakes. Let’s do the math on the basis of the Estonian example. Consider that in Estonia you are looking at a pay out of maximum 3 months’ wages in Employment Disputes Commission - that is even before court. Considering that the average Estonian wage is currently 1023€ per month, add the taxes and you are looking at c.a. 4000€ payout, on average. This not counting the time invested by the HR, the direct line manager, possibly the C-suite people as well as the time of in-house legal. Also, not counting lost profits from the time of all of these people that would have been better invested had they not been involved in a work dispute at all. If you count all that and/or you involve external legal (attorneys), you are looking at a five-digit sum for one dispute. The average turnover of staff should give you indication of the potential number of cases/people leaving the company. When you multiply the 5-digit sum by the average number of people leaving the company every year, you get to 6-digit numbers in direct financial loss and loss of time which could all have been avoided.

Can work conflicts be avoided and smooth exits anticipated? Certainly. For the HR this means the difficult task of getting through to all managers that it’s safe and confidential to involve them early whether or not the decision to exit someone is eventually made. For the company, this means hiring a competent HR person who is seen as a neutral confidante - whom employees would trust to tell about work issues that need to be managed before they ever escalate and whom managers would trust to mediate any conflict without taking sides, looking for the best solution for the company as well as for the employee. We are talking about extensive people skills, listening skills and a trustworthy persona.

Can anything be done when work conflicts have already escalated and court action is being threatened? Certainly. If HR was previously poorly involved in an exit situation or if the HR is not seen as neutral at all or is no longer seen neutral enough to reach a solution beneficial for the employee as well as for the company, then the company should consider bringing in - confidentially -  a person who is not connected to neither the company nor the employee who could de-escalate the dispute. Since threats and pending court action means the dispute has already escalated into the emotional, this neutral person needs to be a professional with skills to be able to manage potentially irate parties and their wishes, wants and expectations during a very limited amount of time. We are talking about mediators who specialise in employment mediations.

Having a structured approach to resolving work and other disputes involves a managerial decision at the very top. What’s the benefit, you ask? Investing 10-20% of the potential payout to the employee into the services of a mediator and/or into upskilling your HR and/or developing your internal exit processes could save you thousands if not tens of thousands of euros in case of just 1 employment dispute. If you have more than 1 employment dispute per year, the benefit is times more. Where would you rather see that money go - as payout and direct budget cost for disputes or would you rather invest it to develop your business?

Add a comment

Email again: