(From Personnel Today) -- HR is often the first port of call when it comes to workplace conflict resolution. So how can you avoid absorbing its negative effects and build skills that can help you elsewhere in your career?
In 2011, the Government announced a raft of employment law reforms - among them a requirement for all employment disputes to go to mediation before tribunal. While this is great news for organisations looking to avoid costly employment tribunals or long, drawn-out official grievance processes, it also looks like HR will have a more hands-on role on the front line of workplace disputes.
Workplace conflict can have a hugely negative impact on organisations. The CBI estimates that it costs UK business £33 billion per year, taking up 20% of leadership time and potentially losing up to 370 million working days. Further, the current economic climate means that many staff are facing redundancy, spouses or family members may have been laid off, and there may be changes to workers' terms and conditions - all of which increase the potential for grievances to be raised.
Personal impact of conflict
But what about the personal impact of conflict on HR? The prospect of dealing with disputes - from a small dispute between two colleagues to an organisation-wide industrial relations issue - could become a drain on your emotional resources. But by being aware of how you react in conflict situations, and developing the capability to stand back and be objective, it is possible to avoid absorbing the negative emotions involved and not burn out.
Angela O'Connor, CEO of HR consultancy The HR Lounge, believes that she used to spend too much time getting emotionally involved in conflicts when she started out. "I thought it was part of the job," she says. "It even got to the stage where I thought about changing careers. Some of the best advice I was ever given was to see and not feel the situation." O'Connor also learnt to push back some of the responsibility for resolving conflict back onto the individuals involved. "You can't do your job properly if you're dealing with every little bicker," she says.
David Liddle, director and co-founder of mediation consultancy The TCM Group, takes this advice one step further. "HR should enable, rather than just observe," he says. "They need to help the parties find a way to have a collaborative dialogue." His company runs a one-day course entitled HR as mediator and peacemaker, which coaches HR professionals in ways they can approach conflict more constructively.