Employee satisfaction remains the single most crucial determinant for the retention of talent in an organization. One of the means to achieve this is to build and sustain an ecosystem within a workplace, which incentivizes employees to effortlessly air their grievances through an approachable channel, as also ensuring its timely and effective resolution in the interests of all stakeholders concerned. Much time and resources have been spent by organizations of all sizes and magnitude, in evolving the right way to do this, from putting in place a grievance redressal desk and policy, to manning a team of expert and skilled People Officers to sensitization and capacity building of Line and HR Managers.
Employee grievances range and source from a multitude of causative factors, including working conditions, workload delegation, pay and benefits, team and manager communication, workplace infrastructure, and so on. Any formidable attempt to resolve this must aim at rightfully acknowledging the concerns of all the parties concerned while trying to align each to their best interests.
The existing architecture directing grievance resolution within a workplace primarily springs from labour statutes. The Industrial Relations Code, 2020 (IR Code), which consolidates and amends the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act, 1947, the Trade Unions Act, 1926 and the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946, provides for constitution and procedure for one or more Grievance Redressal Committees (GRC). The implementation of provisions under the IR Code, at an organization level, is mandatory for establishments employing twenty or more workers. This contrasts with a similar provision under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (the ID Act), which provides for sufficient leeway for organizations already having a substituted mechanism in place, akin to GRC.
Further, both the ID Act and the IR Code provide for Arbitration and Conciliation as alternate mechanisms. However, the framework laid down in said respects is essentially formal, where reference is permitted to be made either of what amounts to an industrial dispute, or where the constituted GRC fails to resolve the grievance(s) within the statutorily stipulated timeline, or where the worker is aggrieved by the decision of the GRC.
Mediation and Conciliation: Emerging Possible Architecture
The efficacy of the rejigged GRC desk and resolution of grievances by the same is yet to test real waters within organizations, after the provisions of the IR Code come into force. However, what is necessary for establishments is to evolve and put in place, a mechanism which entails minimal occasions for complex formal interventions. One of the emerging architectures, in this context, is the engagement of a neutral impartial person, who supports resolving workplace grievances and disagreements. The nuance of such an engagement is possible to be determined at the discretion of the employer and employee, basis the nature and gravity of the grievance in question.
To put and box this simply, where the parties decide that the nature of grievance would best be resolved where the neutral-impartial person not only attempts to understand the matter at hand but also offers suggestions to the parties on a possible resolution, the process would be termed as one of ‘mediation’ and the neutral-impartial person would be termed as a ‘mediator’.
In contrast, given the nature of the grievance, where the parties understand and believe that they would prefer the engagement of the neutral-impartial person as largely of a facilitator only, the process would be termed as ‘conciliation’, wherein the conciliator (operating neutrally), unlike a mediator and instead of offering any suggestions to the parties on a possible resolution, would endeavour to bring the parties together and assist them in arriving at a mutually agreed optimal solution.
Scope and Benefits
Regardless of nuances involved in the circumstances at hand, the core hallmark of such engagement is the same being entirely voluntary and essentially flexible and party-centric, rather than grievance centric. Further, the engagement of the neutral person has the potential to inspire much-needed confidence in all parties in the grievance resolution process.
Albeit the outcome of mediation or conciliation may not be binding to the parties, in its truest sense, its intent and objective would be to ease workplace frictions at the very initial stages, before they escalate to advanced formal complex resolution mechanisms, such as GRC or, even worse, claims before judicial forums, involving denser resources on both sides.
The Way Forward
Mediation and conciliation offer emerging, promising and effective grievance resolution mechanisms to organizations which aim to further streamline their current efforts and resources. Such processes and methodologies are already practised in organizations across the US, Europe, and the Middle East, and in fact, have matured and delivered prompt and favourable outcomes. What is vital to be mindful of is that the ultimate success of such a mechanism, in any jurisdiction, largely depends on the skillset, foresightedness, communication expertise and willingness of all stakeholders to lend a wholesome approach by the neutral-impartial person engaged in the process.
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