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Workplace size biggest predictor of dispute rates

Murphy's law says anything that can go wrong will go wrong. But in the workplace, some things go wrong more often than others - and more regularly in some kinds of organisations too.

Recent research undertaken for Acas explored the subject of mediation, discipline and grievance using the large-scale Workplace Employment Relations Study 2011 data.

It found that the key influence on employment disputes was down to the nature of the workforce and workplace, rather than managerial actions, unions or procedures.

Workplace size the key predictor

In particular, workplace size was the most important predictor of the incidence of individual employment disputes. Larger organisations were linked to higher the rates of dismissals, disciplinary sanctions, grievances and employment tribunal applications.

Workplaces with higher proportions of women or older workers were likely to have lower rates of dismissals and disciplinary sanctions.

Contrary to previous analysis, the research found that unionisation had little influence on incidence of disciplinary sanctions, dismissals and grievances, once size and industrial sector were controlled for.

Most surprisingly of all, perhaps, was the revelation that workplaces with written procedures and those that used mediation tended to experience more grievances, disciplinary issues and employment litigation.

However, the commentary suggested that this may be a chicken and egg situation. It offered the explanation that organisations prone to conflict would be more likely to adopt robust procedures and use alternative resolution techniques, such as mediation.

It also pointed out that there was little evidence that mediation was being used to its greatest effect, at an early stage to prevent disciplinary and grievance matters resulting in formal procedures or litigation.


Acas publications and services

Details of the research paper pdf icon Analysis of the nature, extent and impact of grievance and disciplinary procedures and workplace mediation using WERS2011 [795kb] is available for free download on the Acas website.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and help you build effective working relationships, develop discipline and grievance procedures, or introduce an internal mediation scheme. See Disputes and mediation: how Acas can help for more details.

Practical training is available on wide range of related topics, including Conflict management, Dispute resolution and Mediation, to give you the best chance of defusing problems before they get out of hand.

Detailed information is also available from Acas on Early Conciliation, including the pdf icon Conciliation explained [128kb] leaflet and pdf icon Early Conciliation flowchart [17kb].

For free, impartial advice on any employment relations issue, call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100, or consult Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.
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