Is there a dispute?

IMG_0013The Departmental Secretary

“I’m not standing any more of this. He doesn’t have to be so rude when I ask him why he hasn’t returned the forms yet. These academics think they own the place.” (This complainant, a Departmental Secretary, has been grumbling about this Professor for years. She says this with a grin.)

The Lab Technician

“You don’t get married every day. I don’t anyway. My fiancée wants us to get married somewhere romantic on St. Valentine’s Day. I don’t care if it is the middle of term. What do you mean, I have to obey reasonable instructions. I’m going and that’s the end of the matter. They can’t sack me for going on honeymoon when I choose. Can they?”

The resentful academic

“What does she mean, I’m not research-active?  I would have got promotion by now if she hadn’t had it in for me. She shouldn’t be allowed to continue as Head of Department next year.”

The PhD Student

“I am worried that the data on our research project are being kept by the pharmaceutical company whose new drug we are testing. They are handing it out to suit themselves and there is no way of knowing what they are not telling us. I tried to discuss this with my supervisor but he said it is my job to get on with my thesis and not ask questions. I said I can’t finish my thesis when I can’t be sure what I have proved. He gave me a very nasty look and said did I want his support for a post-doctoral position or not?”

It is easy enough to be sure there is a dispute when  a formal complaint or grievance procedure is initiated or when solicitors’ letters are exchanged. Dealing with disputes at an early stage is by far the best thing to do, but is it helpful for the institution to intervene when there is a minor disagreement or a grumble? For the ‘responsible person’, manager or head of department,  faced with one of these situations there are questions:

  • How do I work out my options and decide how to handle this?
  • Should I reach for the institution’s lawyers or struggle manfully on?
  • Will I get into trouble if I try to handle this discreetly myself or will it actually be better if I go it alone?
  • What are my duties to the students and the people I ‘line manage’?
  • What are my obligations as an employer, employee, manager, officer?

The cost of getting it wrong

The cost to an institution of not spotting a problem and dealing with it at an early stage can be huge, in management time, internal discord and disruption, sick-leave for distressed employees, reputational damage (for example mounting of damaging websites by angry students, Facebook, Twitter and Blog discussions), and also in legal fees.

For individuals who reach the point of voicing a complaint and then find it is not dealt with quickly, the stress and distress can be enormous.

For practical pointers, go to:

Avoiding trouble: the tactics          

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