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Restorative justice can help in workplace conflict resolution

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Conflict can negatively impact workplace productivity and experts say there is a more modern approach to solving the problem.

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Modern workplaces rely on a high degree of trust that is difficult to maintain under the strain of conflict.

Scott Way, Director of BDO Industrial & Organisational Psychology, says that conflict in the workplace also has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line.

“If you have people working in a team who have strained relationships and lack trust, there will be inefficiencies,” Way says.

Key to maintaining or restoring trust is an effective and fair conflict resolution approach, says management and business expert Professor Tyler Okimoto.

Restorative justice is one such approach, though he warns it’s not a universal ‘cure-all’. The driver behind restorative justice is finding understanding and empathy, Prof Okimoto says.

He says it is vital that those team members making complaints in the workplace and those accused of workplace wrongdoing both feel like their grievances are being treated fairly.

“Trying to manage conflict is one of the things that people find extremely difficult, and we can all do better at it,” says Prof Okimoto, who was recently invited to speak in South Australia by BDO.

More traditionally, says Prof Okimoto, most workplace reactions to conflict in teams tends to be dictated by process.

“It concentrates on the one hand on the concerns of the complainant but also the concerns of the organisation to make sure it doesn’t happen again, that the legal side of things is covered off,”

The problem with this approach is that relationships may not be mended.

Restorative justice creates a healthier culture in the workplace, Prof Okimoto says, as the impact of staff members thinking they are not being treated fairly can lead to stress, health issues, less motivation or people leaving an organisation.

Prof Okimoto, who is Associate Professor in Management in the University of Queensland Business School, says there are several important steps in the process.

The first is explaining what is involved and the desired outcomes, followed by the opportunity for all involved to tell their story and explain why they feel harmed.

“When you start the meeting it is important to frame up the objectives, to give each person an opportunity to share their version of events and perspectives, but also to ask what they think would be necessary in order for them to move on from it,” Prof Okimoto says.

Human Resources should then be helping to make a plan, documenting and following up.

“It’s important for the person who is facilitating to be an objective observer or possibly an outsider so parties don’t feel like sides are being taken,” Prof Okimoto says.

“I think most people recognize that the sort of work that we do and will continue to do even more of, requires a very high degree of collaboration and coordination.

“Interest in a restorative approach is quite high because it’s one of the topics that good managers recognize they can always be improving.”

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