Tips on dealing with a problem at work
Conflicts will naturally arise in the workplace, but if a disagreement gets serious there are formal steps you need to follow to resolve it effectively
We’ve all felt hard done by on the job at some point, but sometimes conflicts in the workplace can be deeper than wounded pride or hurt feelings. Serious problems at work can require formal resolutions through intervention, mediation or even tribunals.
When considering what to do about a work conflict, the first step is to take a breath and try to objectively assess how serious it is. Is it something that could be resolved by a quiet word? Could it be your attitude that needs to change to improve the situation? If you find it hard to be impartial, try asking friends, colleagues or family members for their opinions.
If you’ve ruled out the possibilities of temporary tussles, simple communication breakdowns and momentary overreactions, and still feel there is an issue that needs resolving, it is time to take a more structured approach. The best way to resolve a problem at work is to take your concerns to management, and here are some tips on how to best do that.
Write it all down
Sometimes getting things down on paper can help you get perspective; it can also help you plan what you want to say when making a complaint. Try to read what you have written through others’ eyes – are there any information gaps? Be as detailed as possible. If you have a particular grievance with another member of staff, such as bullying, try to keep a diary of incidents, noting dates and times and exact details of what has happened. This can create a clear picture of the situation for others to act on. It can also help take the emotion out of your complaint so you can focus on facts over feelings, giving you a better chance of being taken seriously.
Start a paper trail
Request a meeting with your line manager to discuss your grievance. Try to do so by email or text, if possible, so you have written proof. As we’ve already mentioned, cold-hard data is the key to successful action. After every contact with management, send a follow up email, letter or message recapping what was said in the meeting and the actions agreed upon.
Gather evidence and make your case
As well as a diary of incidents, are there any other items of proof you can take into a meeting with your line manager or HR? For example, if you feel you haven’t been paid the agreed amount, take in payslips. Or if there is a breach of contract, such as being forced to work too many hours or not receiving a promised benefit, ensure you have the contract to hand with the relevant clause highlighted.
Keep escalating until the problem is resolved
When dealing with a problem at work, consider your route out of it to look like a ladder with each rung representing a person or an action. The first rung should be colleagues – can you alter a toxic working environment by speaking with your immediate team? If you don’t succeed, move on to the next rung, which could be your line manager, HR department or the business owner. Step by step, increase the seniority of people you approach with your problem – all the while presenting your evidence and case clearly, and keeping notes to form a paper trail. Your employer might have a specific grievance procedure in place for serious issues. If this is the case, find out what it is and follow the steps.
Take it to a tribunal If all internal efforts to resolve your problem at work have failed, a last resort would be to take your company to an employment tribunal, which is a formal legal proceeding presided over by a judge. This will allow you to have an independent person look over your claims. Tribunals often deal with serious issues such as discrimination, unfair dismissal and redundancy issues, and your claim must be made within three months of the original incident that caused you to seek a tribunal. Before going to court, you must attempt to resolve the issue through mediation by contacting the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. If this fails, you should start a tribunal claim by filling out an ET1 form, which you can find on the gov.uk website. There might be costs involved in employment tribunals so this should only be done as a last resort. For more information on fees and procedures, you can contact Citizens Advice.