Resolve the dispute as early as possible

Everyone has an interest in getting a dispute resolved as soon as possible after it has arisen. That is not always easy to do because a dispute may not become ‘visible’ until it has become serious or entrenched. And even if it is obvious that something is wrong it may be difficult for a manager or head of department to ask about it without appearing to intrude.

The important thing is to try to catch the problem and deal with it before someone initiates a formal procedure.   It cannot be said too often that adversarial procedures are slow and can be damaging. They cause stress. They allow for only a limited number of outcomes, none of which may be enough to put things right.

Students do not have time to lose

Even a well-run institutional student complaints procedure is likely to take weeks or months. Students complaining that their work is not being marked or a lecturer keeps cancelling timetabled lecturers need something done at once. They are losing ‘contact time’ and may be disadvantaged in assessments or examinations. They need speedy action.

In the case of a student complaint there may be several students with the same concern about the delivery of their course. In that case it may work better, and save a series of future complaints, to consider what they are saying outside the formal complaints procedures and treat it as a possible ‘systemic’ concern.

Grievances rarely work

Employee grievances rarely succeed in resolving the problems which have caused the lodging of the grievance in the first place. Starting a grievance sometimes prompts a counter-grievance or even a disciplinary process against the person with the initial grievance. The initiation of a staff grievance is often a sign that informal attempts to resolve bad feeling in the workplace have failed. The formal process, once embarked on, causes those grieved against to become distressed or indignant and even if the grievance is upheld, working relationships are likely to have been irreparably damaged.

If the dispute is between a student and a member of staff, no formal procedure will apply to both

Staff grievance and disciplinary procedures and student complaint and disciplinary procedures run on parallel tracks which do not meet. There will be no single forum in which the student complaint and the staff member can come together except an informal one.