Restorative Justice in the Workplace: Winter 2010 Issue

Workplace experience all the highs and lows of any system of relationships. When problems emerge, our first response as staff is often to lodge a grievance. As managers we feel we need to know who has done what to whom and what we need to do to get things back on track. The Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures sets out principles for handling grievances but, grievance systems are designed to deal with disputes, not conflicts, and can escalate the difference rather than resolve them.

We are encouraged to deal with grievances informally and in theory, approaching those who make us feel uncomfortable is a good idea but it is one not generally adhered to in practice. It is difficult and risky, so we typically choose to talk to others rather than confront the “offender.” As we avoid engaging each other, so we start to resent each other and drift apart. as we drift apart we start to notice and eventually look for and find, annoying, unhelpful and even threatening behaviours in the other. Eventually what might have been dealt with as a low level disagreement or dispute, escalates into a general state of negative feelings between people. We are now dealing with conflict.

Using Restorative Justice to deal with Conflict

At ProActive Resolutions, we have been using Restorative Justice conferencing to respond to conflict in the workplace for many years. Unlike our work in the criminal justice system, we don’t start with an offender who has admitted guilt or an obvious victim who can confidently lay claim to more hurt and harm than others. Instead we have some people in conflict with others in their group, who all feel strongly about what has been happening.

The Restorative Justice Process

Restorative Justice begins with confidential one-on-one interviews, listening to people tell their story about what has been happening. Having identified what the issues are and which of the incidents best illustrate those issues, our final task prior to the Conference is to persuade individuals that they have contributed to the conflict and need to bear some personal responsibility. Once in the conference, the flow of the process is similar to that in in the criminal justice. Our facilitator has determined what will be talked about, individuals have agreed in advance to talk about particular incidents, a conversation unfolds where the group slowly and tentatively begin to engage with each other on issues that are difficult to talk about and upsetting. its a process where we ultimately learn that we are almost better off engaging with, than ignoring each other.

Restorative Justice as a way to address Workplace Conflict

Workplace are complex and dynamic communities conflict occurs when systems of relationships go awry. Restorative Justice conferencing is the approach that best accommodates the complexity and and emotional risks faced by teams in conflict, needing to restore their relationships and plan how best to transform the conflict into ongoing cooperation.

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