The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Resolving Workplace Conflict at the Ground Floor

ChessThink about the many different work styles, personality types, viewpoints and temperaments in your organization. Now add to that mix competing ideas, workplace stress, ego and pride, and it’s easy to see how coworkers can butt heads. While many workplace disagreements are either intentionally resolved or simply fizzle out on their own over time, others can simmer for days, weeks, months … even years. These unresolved conflicts often negatively affect productivity, morale and performance — not only for the individuals directly involved, but also for their coworkers, teams and colleagues.

In an effort to help employees address interpersonal conflict in a timely and productive manner, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) has implemented an informal, mediated conflict resolution process, created by and housed in the HR and office of institutional equity (OIE) department. In an article in a recent issue of CUPA-HR’s The Higher Education Workplace magazine, Dimples Smith of IPFW and Daniel Griffith of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis shared how the program works.

Here, Dimples and Dan provide an overview of IPFW’s neutral conflict resolution (NCR) program and answer some questions posed by webinar attendees.

Q: How does the NCR program work?

A: Employees initiate the neutral conflict resolution process by filling out a request form on the HR-OIE website. HR-OIE then assigns one of 18 NCR representatives to the case (all NCR reps have received at least 40 hours of training in mediation and facilitation). The NCR rep is required to reach out to the parties within three days of being assigned the case, and all parties involved must sign an agreement before the NCR process begins. The representative then arranges and conducts individual meetings with the parties involved and arranges and conducts the NCR meeting(s). After the final meeting, the NCR rep provides to HR-OIE a summary of the outcome as well as any signed agreements.

Q: What types of conflicts might the neutral conflict resolution process help resolve that may not be covered under a grievance procedure?

A: The program is designed to address issues including personality conflicts, long-standing disagreements, unprofessional conduct and the like. The common theme in most conflicts we’ve seen has been an individual losing trust or respect for a coworker or supervisor because of something that person did or said. NCR is not a substitute for IPFW’s formal grievance process. Complaints including academic misconduct, allegations of fraud, physical or sexual assault, criminal behavior, discrimination, gross misconduct, sexual harassment, retaliation and other issues with potential legal ramifications cannot be addressed through the program.

Q: How long does the process generally take (from beginning to dispute resolution)?

A: Best practice is for a one-on-one meeting with each individual party to be conducted first, and then a joint meeting where the actual mediation occurs. Each party is made aware that the expectation is that they should dedicate at least one hour for the one-on-one and one to two hours for the mediation meeting. If the conflict has been longstanding, it may require more than one joint mediation session.

Q: When individuals volunteer to go through the mediator training to become an NCR representative, do they have to get approval from a supervisor to participate? How does this participation impact their workload?

A: Yes, manager approval is necessary. It is important for the individual’s supervisor to know what will be expected from his or her direct report in terms of time commitment (at IPFW, we require our NCR reps to serve for at least two years). This is particularly important for non-exempt staff. For each individual trained, an explanation of the program and the time required is provided to his or her manager.

Q: Do NCR representatives receive compensation for their mediation duties?

A: Mediators do not receive extra compensation. It is a volunteer role. However, training for the initial launch of our NCR program occurred during the summer semester, and since summer is a time when faculty are not teaching and/or required to be on campus, our vice chancellor for academic affairs provided a one-time stipend for faculty interested in the training.

To learn more about neutral conflict resolution and how it can be used on your campus, see the article “Neutral Conflict Resolution” from the Spring 2016 issue of CUPA-HR’s The Higher Education Workplace magazine.