Responding to a growing interest in the subject in recent years, this study is intended to improve our understanding of conflict management and dispute resolution systems in nonunionized workplaces in Canada. It sets out the key reasons for the increased interest in effective systems, describes the various procedures being used, and evaluates their effectiveness. The authors identify the strengths and pitfalls of various systems.
Effective conflict management systems can contribute to an effective high-performance workplace by improving employee involvement, morale, and productivity.
Any system should address a few key principles. It should accept that conflict will occur. Stakeholders must know that there is a clear system for managing conflict. The system should address the interests of all stakeholders and should be fair and be seen to be fair. It should be easily accessible and safe to use.
While the authors emphasize that there is no ideal model suitable to every situation and that each model needs to be adapted to the specific organization, they were surprised to find that no organization studied had a system that addressed all the key principles.
While executives were satisfied with their conflict resolution processes, few organizations measure how well the process is working or how satisfied the stakeholders are with it. Few processes provide a written guarantee of fair treatment or no reprisals.
Organizations do not broadly communicate information about their conflict resolution process. Training in conflict resolution is minimal, and dispute resolution skills are not regarded as a core competency.
There is, however, an emphasis on resolving issues at the lowest level and as close to the situation as possible, with employees and management taking ownership over conflict resolution. Most processes are informal and rely heavily on open-door policies.
The authors conclude that while a lot of experimentation seems to be taking place, the aims of practices connected with the high-performance workplace seem to be disconnected from what is happening with dispute resolution. Organizations must learn to administer conflict management systems so that they fit into a larger HR strategy, where they can play an important part in the change management process.