Resolving staff concerns

Guidance for Managers in supporting informal resolution.

As a line manager, you have an important role in promoting a positive, respectful and inclusive culture, and discouraging inappropriate behaviour. You also have a duty of care to members of your team to sort out problems or issues with efficiency and sensitivity.  This guidance supports the Dignity and Respect policy in situations where an employee raises a concern with you.

The Dignity and Respect Policy advises that employees resolve concerns informally where possible and that advice and support can be sought from their manager.  In addition, the Grievance Policy directs employees with a concern, problem or complaint to their line manager to resolve concerns informally in the first instance. 

Guidance for Managers on the Informal Meeting

If an employee requests a meeting to raise a concern, allow plenty time for the meeting and hold it in an appropriate meeting room.  Take any steps to ensure the meeting is kept confidential (eg marking the meeting as a private appointment in Outlook calendar).

At the informal meeting, you should explore:

  • What the nature of the complaint is, eg undesired behaviour/language.  Try to establish the facts, eg examples, any witnesses, dates/times of when the undesired behaviour occurred.
  • How the employee is feeling as a result of the alleged harasser/bully’s behaviour.  Bear in mind that an employee may be feeling vulnerable or anxious, and this may be the first time they have discussed their concerns so allow them time to raise their concerns.
  • Whether the employee knows if the alleged harasser/bully is aware of the impact of their behaviour.
  • What steps have already been taken by the employee, if any, to address the behaviour.
  • How the behaviour contravenes the Dignity and Respect policy.  It may be useful to refer to the Appendix of the Dignity and Respect policy to identify how the behaviour meets one of the definitions.  Consider the complainant’s perspective and whether it is reasonable.
  • What outcome the employee would like to happen, eg identify expected standards of behaviour from alleged harasser/bully.
  • Whether the employee feels able to deal with the issue informally e.g. find out if they are comfortable speaking to the alleged harasser/bully on their own or if they would like your involvement.  If they are happy to speak to the other party themselves, advise them how to approach the meeting and ask them to make a note of the conversation once it has happened.  Advice on handling a meeting with the alleged harasser/bully is provided below.
  • Whether the employee would benefit from other sources of support, eg Dignity and Respect Adviser, University counselling service.
  • How you will review the situation with the employee over the next few weeks and months.  If behaviour has not stopped/changed ask member of staff what they would like to do next.  Advise of options for informal and formal grievance.  Suggest member of staff speaks to local HR Advisor.

If the nature of the complaint is very serious it may not be appropriate to deal with it in an informal way or by the member of staff alone, e.g. if threatening or abusive conduct has occurred.  In this case please contact your local HR Advisor.

Raising concerns with the alleged harasser/bully

If the employee wishes you to raise the concerns with the alleged harasser/bully, arrange to meet the alleged harasser/bully (either alone or with complainant).  You may wish to consult your local HR Advisor to plan for this meeting and to discuss how to manage possible responses of the alleged harasser/bully.  Take any steps to ensure the meeting is kept confidential.

At the meeting with the alleged harasser/bully:

  • Explain the purpose of the meeting (eg a meeting to raise some concerns, who has raised the concerns, and to learn their thoughts on the concerns).   Explain the purpose of the Dignity and Respect policy and provide a copy for the alleged harasser/bully to take away. Confirm that at this stage this is an informal process.
  • Be objective and avoid any judgements.  Be open to hearing the viewpoint of the alleged harasser/bully.
  • Define the concerns of the employee as factually as possible in neutral language, using the examples given to you by the employee.  Explain the impact of their behaviour and how the behaviour makes the employee feel (e.g. that the employee is finding their behaviour difficult and upsetting), and find out if they acknowledge / recognise that behaviour.  Differences of attitude, background or culture can lead to individuals taking different views of the same situation.  There could be unintentional misunderstandings or a lack of awareness – it therefore is not unusual for the alleged harasser/bully to be unaware of the impact of their behaviour. 
  • Acknowledge the perspective of the alleged harasser/bully, if appropriate.  The alleged harasser/bully may not have meant to cause harm or distress but explain the consequences of their behaviour.
  • If the behaviour is acknowledged: explain how the employee would like the behaviour to change and that you will check with the employee to make sure that has happened.  Explain what will happen if the alleged harasser/bully’s behaviour does not change, i.e. potential for formal action leading to disciplinary sanction.  
  • If the behaviour is not acknowledged: you could explain the perception of the employee and ask if the alleged harasser/bully can reconsider their behaviour to help improve working relationships.  In cases where the behaviour is not acknowledged or counter concerns/complaints are made regarding the employee, please refer to HR.  It may be appropriate to consider mediation or progressing to formal processes such as a formal grievance - HR can advise on such options.
  • Make a note of when the meeting took place and summary of discussion in case this is required in future.
  • Give feedback to the employee regarding the outcome of meeting, and ask the employee to keep a note of any further problems.

The University supports managers in developing the skills to manage conversations such as raising concerns with an alleged harasser/bully.  More information is available through the University’s learning and development Online Toolkit, or through workshops such as Managing Difficult Conversations.

Learning and development Online Toolkit