By Nicole Godetz, Mediator, Trainer, Educational Specialist and a member of the ASM Plus Education, Family and Small Claims Teams. This is Nicole’s inaugural blog. Part 2 follows in a few days

 Part 1 The Business Case

Recruiting and retaining good teachers and lecturers is extremely challenging in today’s employment market. With the strain on education spending testing Golden Hellos (Joining Incentives) and Handcuffs (Retention Incentives), competitive promotion packages, good ancillary support and guaranteed non-contact time, promises to lure and retain capable colleagues are harder to make.

So, what else can we do?

One of the most effective in terms of reputation and best value is to act, and be seen to act, as “Good Employers”

ACAS, the “Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service”, (a Crown non-departmental public body of the Government of the United Kingdom) has a productivity tool. It has seven levers for productive workplaces’ Golden Hello: –

  • Rights and Responsibilities
  • Fairness
  • Employee Voice
  • High Trust
  • Well Designed Work
  • Skilled Managers and very importantly,

As well as being a positive strategy for productive workforces, Conflict Management makes financial sense. In 2008, OPP (part of CPP – the Myers-Briggs® Company and one of Europe’s largest business psychology providers) & CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development), estimated that workplace conflict costs the UK Economy £24billion per year; 370 million working days were lost in the UK in 2007 alone.

East Sussex County Council has estimated that raising a grievance to Board level, through to right of appeal cost:

  • 32 days HR Case Management
  • Similar time for Unions
  • Legal Team 10-12 days
  • Line Manager >32
  • £0.5M as a conservative estimate

Early Conflict Resolution is even more cost effective, as addressing issues in the initial stages frequently results in disputes being resolved and long-term agreements put in place. It can often be achieved with as little as one day’s support.  Reflective, “Good Employers” will use minor conflicts as opportunities to review procedures and practices so as to ensure there is clarity of expectations, and that appropriate training and support are in place. This will then prove even more cost effective as it will further minimise the chances of queries and relationship building manifesting into conflict and disputes in the workplace.

Even if a dispute needed mediation, this would typically take only a total of 3 days, (1-day preparation, 1-day mediation and 1-day follow-up). This would be a straightforward financial comparison: Cost of an Employment Tribunal – £25,000 approx.  -v- Cost of Mediation – £2,500 approx; clearly a strong business case. 

In the education sector, the costs of dealing with a conflict internally, could look like this:

If we calculated the cost of managing this process in house, and we set cover at a modest £180 per day, there would be:

  • Cost of release time for staff to be interviewed (could be 2 days; £360)
  • Displaced workload of the senior staff member (could be 2 days; £360)
  • Time for analysis of evidence and report writing (1 day; £180)
  • A need for the line manager to support the senior member of staff (half a day; £90)
  • Loss of performance standards (huge!)
  • Possible stress related illness absence (say 3 days; £540)
  • Additional stress on the senior staff member (could leave and recruitments costs run into £1000s)
  • Possible soured relations internally, if the process was not resolved well (huge!)

The calculable total would easily run into thousands of pounds in the first instance, and there could be ongoing costs too (further absence, staff leaving and more recruiting and induction needed).

Therefore, clearly the preferable financial and personnel choice is to:

  • Ensure that your vision and values are shared and clear to all
  • Have explicit, workable and agreed work practices in place
  • Plan professional development and coaching so that senior staff are trained and capable of building teams and supporting relationship building
  • Embed a culture of key conversations to specifically celebrate good practice and address less effective practice before it becomes a pattern
  • Deal with issues effectively as they arise

If there is not sufficient expertise or capacity to do any of the above, bring in an external expert. This will show your staff that you value good working relations, and that you will not tolerate unprofessional behaviour that is out of line with your vision and values. It will also demonstrate all of this, without causing unnecessary, additional stress for your existing staff.

Consequently, there is a direct link with the business bottom line, Early Conflict Resolution and Mediation are cost effective, great value for money and in the overwhelming number of disputes, the problem is solved.

Business case made!