I am not sure if you have noticed but one of the negative effects of the pandemic is the increased incidence of disputes between employees and employers. If you remember back to this time last year, we went into the crisis with something of a blitz mentality. There was quite a lot of goodwill with employees being willing to be flexible and adjust to new ways of working in many cases, very rapidly. Employers often quickly learnt who was a “can do” person and some employees even shone as they illustrated to their employer the skills and strengths that had not had the opportunity to shine out before.

One year on and I would defy anybody to say that they are not less resilient and more tired. We all know that when we are in that frame of mind, we are more easily riled, things that wouldn’t normally niggle us, do and we don’t have our usual outlets, such as, time with family, friends, sports and other past times that enable us to decompress and become more objective about things. It’s much easier for workplace issues to take on a disproportionate significance or judgement to be impaired.

I have definitely noticed this since Christmas. I am being asked to review eg:- a disciplinary report for a situation that in the past may have never made it to a formal process, hearing of the business leader breaking down in a phone call or seeing the tone with which people are starting to correspond with each other in day to day interactions. I am definitely sensing an upping of the ante.

If you are having issues referred to you, what things can you be doing to try and prevent escalation of the dispute to something bigger?

  1. It is not easy with everybody working from home and being socially distanced in the workplace, to do the very basic thing which is to talk. I bet if you just asked the protagonist of a particular email or conversation how they are, that it wouldn’t take too long before the frailties are exposed and the person is sharing the challenges that they are currently going through. If you get two people doing this together, their understanding of each other will be so much greater and the context for whatever has happened will be understood, meaning they are less likely to take offence or to react in the way that they have initially.
  2. If somebody is encouraging you to react to something, ask yourself this, “in 2019 what would I have done?” or “if I was having coffee with friends or down the pub and somebody told me a story about this, what advice would I give”?
  3. Is there an informal way of addressing the issue? Have you had a conversation and told the person what they are doing is something that could amount to a disciplinary/conduct issue? They may not even realise that that is the territory that they are in. It is worth having a conversation with the person so that they realise that what they are doing might be regarded as a conduct issue and they understand that if there is not a change in behaviour, the issue may become formal and be dealt with in that manner? The same goes for performance – if we don’t flag something is a problem the person will not know.
  4. If you are a manager who is wanting to take action, be sure of a few things before you do so. Has the employee concerned actually been told that the item under discussion falls within their job description? Has the employer provided them with training on how to do it? Have they had the support that they need? Is there a clear document or policy setting out what they need to do? The most common reason for people not performing is that they have never been told what their job involves or how to do it properly. It is only if the manager is sure that they have fulfilled the employer’s side of the bargain that we should really be going after the employee. Otherwise, it is easy to blame. Just ask the manager for 5 minutes to put themselves in the employees shoes and think about what the employee might say: it could be revealing.
  5. Let people let off steam. If you work on the basis that everyone is having a difficult time, and that people may be over-reacting, remember that when dealing with people. Give people the opportunity to calm down and reflect and don’t be tempted to respond to emails immediately. You may find that everybody is in a better frame of mind tomorrow.

Refreshing Law Ltd

8 February 2021