The step-by-step plan

Symptoms

It is not easy to recognize an upcoming labour dispute at an early stage. When do you call a situation a dispute? Business discussions or differences in opinion should, after all, be acceptable and not always the basis for a labour dispute.

However, you should be alert for signs that can stand in the way of a healthy cooperation. Disputes arise without you noticing and it also often takes place ‘subtly’. Here are a few practical examples to illustrate this:

  • the information flow dries up
  • reminders and reproaches
  • written rather than verbal communication
  • exclusion from meetings

These are clear indications that the cooperation is not working out as it should and it is hindering you in carrying out your tasks properly.

The employers reactions

In a more probing scenario a manager or the employer takes it a step further by putting pressure on the working relationship.

Examples:

  • restriction of tasks, responsibilities and authority
  • putting together a dossier
  • unmistakable advice to find another job
  • your colleagues are told how to go about with you

Forcing the matter

If an employer takes drastic measures to force a break then the dispute will usually be directly and clearly visible.

Examples:

  • unexpected negative performance appraisal
  • unfounded demotion or transfer
  • suspension
  • outplacement offer

Step-by-step plan

Without specifically indicating in which stage it would be desirable to act or counteract, there are a number of general practical rules that apply in keeping an overview of the situation and keeping it manageable.

  1. Keep a log book. Even if you are only slightly suspicious then you should compile a log book in which you make notes of events and situations. This would include e-mails.
  2. Open communication. When in doubt about something ask for clarification from the person responsible rather then asking around for possible confirmation. Your colleagues have their own interests and are usually not objective in their judgement. The Personnel and Human Resources departments are most likely to act on behalf of the company rather than the individual.
  3. Confidential off the record discussion. Initiate a confidential discussion in which you raise the matter of trust. Choose questions that will give an insight into the standpoint of the employer.
  4. Always avoid discussions on the substance or yes/no games and do not go into ‘blind’ negotiations. You should start off by trying to understand the nature and scope of the dispute and what and who play a role in this and how.
  5. Conclude by setting a follow-up meeting or mention that you will deliberate about the position taken by your employer. The employer thinks, after all, that he has been clear and will, if a follow-up meeting is required, want to continue where he left off. Even though you have not reacted.
  6. Continue with your work. Poorer performance, reporting yourself ill, etc will immediately jeopardize your situation and cause your employer to react with such statements as ‘I told you so’.

As dealing with such situations is not something you do on a daily basis do not forget to call in professional help at an early stage.

Experts can assess the situation reasonably quickly and on this basis advise you and possibly at a later stage take over the case for you.

Keep in mind that every dispute is negotiable provided that it is approached in a professional way.

Never put up a fight with your employer as a 'Don Quixote';. Your employer is ready for the fight and it can make you feel as if 'you're hitting your head against a brick wall'

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