HR programs help resolve workplace conflicts

Workplace Resolution

With a total regular workforce of more than 16,300 faculty and staff, and nearly 16,000 more in the Health System, Penn is a small city that requires an army of dedicated employees to keep the institution running smoothly.

In the name of productivity, we all must get along, and for the most part we do. The majority of workplace issues at Penn are resolved in an informal manner. But when problems do fester, the University has programs designed to help bring about solutions.

The Division of Human Resources’ (HR) Workplace Issue Resolution Program is an informal process designed to help staff members settle office conflicts. Sharon Moorer Aylor, executive director of HR’s Staff & Labor Relations Department, says the program is most effectively used in the early stages of a dispute. An employee with a workplace concern can visit HR’s Staff and Labor Relations Department or any of the University Resource Offices.   

The Workplace Issue Resolution Program has three different options:

The first is Open Communication Philosophy, which involves a staff member consulting with his or her supervisor (or others in the supervisory chain of command), or speaking with the individual with whom he or she has a conflict.

The second is Conference/Facilitated Meetings in which a staff relations professional or University Resource Office professional can either address the issue with the supervisor or coworker directly (so the employee doesn’t have to be present) or facilitate a meeting with all parties. This option works best when the employee seeking relief feels uncomfortable speaking directly with his or her supervisor or coworker.

A third option is Mediation, and both parties must agree to participate. Under this program, the mediators—Penn staff volunteers trained in mediation strategy—encourage open dialogue and assist in brainstorming possible solutions. They do not, however, impose a solution.

Employees seeking a more formal resolution process can file a staff grievance.

Under the Staff Grievance Program, a panel of volunteer staffers review information submitted by both the grievant and the respondent—in writing and in person at a hearing—and help write recommendations to the President or her designee.

HR is currently accepting applications for employees interested in serving as volunteer panelists for the Staff Grievance Program. Interested individuals can sign up online, and must do so by Friday, Jan. 27, 2012.

“We want to encourage people to raise workplace concerns because we know the sooner they raise them and they get resolved, the productivity of the area will improve, and the more civil and positive the work environment will be,” Aylor says.

Staff members cannot be retaliated against for airing workplace concerns or using workplace resolution programs. If a staff member believes he or she is being retaliated against, he or she can discuss the allegations with HR or the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs.

Originally published on December 8, 2011