Could you avoid labour disputes entirely?

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Labour relations often make the news, as another strike or lockout is announced. Although overall both sides of the table would agree they want to enable a successful company with productive staff, the end results shows the disconnect. It’s no wonder so many HR people talk about and specialize in dispute resolution.

However, one well-known labour relations leader wants to see the focus shift from resolution to avoidance.

“People often see labour relations as dealing with grievances in the workplace as they arise, and preparing for collective bargaining every two or three years, as opposed to seeing it as a lifetime commitment to avoiding disputes through better relationships,” says Buzz Hargrove,  director of the Centre for Labour Management Relations. “It’s about communication with the people you are dealing with not only when a problem arises but on an on-going basis. Knowing the issues, becoming more understanding of what is important to them.”

The research centre is co-funded by businesses and unions and offers university courses in dispute avoidance, which will roll out at Ryerson as a full degree option by 2015.

Hargrove, who is speaking at this week's HRPA conference, said it was HR’s responsibility to make sure that the best people were in labour relation roles, and to send the message that a collaborative approach will be better for the organization.

“Both sides of the table have the same kinds of issues of understanding what drives and motivates people,” Hargrove said. “Spend the time talking to people and not concerning yourself about whether you like to find out what issues they feel strongly about and why. For HR these are things they need to try and instill in people.”

While there would likely always be some grievances and disputes, approaching problems with an understanding of what the other party wants or needs can ensure faster, less conflict-ridden solutions.

“My experience over 40 years is the more you find ways to avoid disputes the more productive the work force is, the happier the workplace is and the more successful the company is,” Hargrove added.

What do you think? Is your organization focused more on avoidance, or resolution?


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