Part 2:   The Well-Being Case:

In part 1 of the blog on Early Conflict Resolution in Education, the business case was made for dealing with conflict early and effectively. It is difficult to separate the financial and well-being cases completely, so there will be a small amount of overlap.

Even the simplest disputes mean that a senior leader will have to find time to meet with all involved, talk to anyone named as a witness and then write up a report. This member of staff will then meet with all parties again, either to mediate or discuss the conclusions. In some instances, the conclusions may lead to disciplinary action, and an officer investigatory report will need to be presented; this is all on top of the very busy job that this senior leader is already doing.

So, in times of teacher and lecturer shortages, do we really want to be adding additional stresses and burdens onto already disillusioned staff?

There is a serious case to be made for promoting well-being, by ensuring there is a well-managed, workplace ethos that prioritises positive relationships and transparent leadership. In this positive scenario, high priority is given to leadership and management training, so that senior staff are well prepared and capable of developing and maintaining such a workplace ethos. To ensure the success of such a positive environment, all staff would need regular training and managing to ensure that the workplace, behavioural expectations were clear and maintained.

Difficult conversations should be seen as employment First Aid and part of routine, healthy management; ideally, key employees would conduct them.  With key employees addressing difficult conversations, line managers can then facilitate Basic Conflict Resolution. If Mediation is needed, it could be undertaken by HR managers or in-house mediators.

However, in reality, how often are staff actually trained and supported to have key conversations, let alone resolve conflict or mediate? In too many cases, this is rarely routinely part of ongoing CPD. If lucky, there may be support through coaching, or, on the spot advice when they are actually asked, or more than likely directed, to carry out these tasks.

In many instances, the most challenging circumstances are can be landed on staff who do not feel prepared or capable. In such situations, the chances of indiscretion, subjectivity, raised emotions or poor practice can be high. Consequently, situations are made worse at the time and can sour ongoing, future professional and personal relationships.

In 2011, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), identified thematic causes of conflict at the workplace:

ACAS Identified Causes:

 Personality clashes and warring egos 49%

  • Stress 34%
  • Heavy workloads and inadequate resources 33%
  • Poor leadership from the top 29%
  • Lack of honesty and openness 26%
  • Poor line management 23%
  • Lack of role clarity 22%
  • Lack of clarity about accountability 21%
  • Clash of values 18%
  • Poor selection and pairing of teams 16%
  • Taboo subjects e.g. office affairs 15%
  • Poor performance management 14%
  • Bullying and harassment  13%
  • Perceived discrimination 10%

As can be seen, very few of these are due to external pressures; reducing the risk of most of these occurring could be achieved by the adoption of Effective Work and Change Management Practices of which Early Conflict Resolution is a part. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 actually promotes the case for Early Conciliation.

Thus, the case for investment in training and support to embed Effective Work and Change Management Practices and Early Conflict Resolution is made very clearly.

Even in cases where there is the expertise and capacity, external support can be brought in, and be of benefit, where, for example, there is a potential lack of neutrality.

Capacity is likely to be the main barrier in schools and colleges; staff in the education sector are already overwhelmed with their workload.  Resolving a dispute, conflict or conducting mediation, may be seen as an additional burden by senior staff. Yet, if not addressed, disputes can impact negatively on work performance and then, consequently, on student outcomes.

Accessing support with Early Conflict Resolution and Mediation is best when follow up support to look at procedures, policy and practice is also undertaken. Better still preventive development through training, review of practice, coaching or consultancy, can minimise negative situations arising at all.

The case for embedding Effective Work and Change Management Practices and Early Conflict Resolution to improve retention, reduce turnover and prioritise Well-being in the workplace is made