2023: a year of conflict

Susan Clews , Acas Chief Executive

Acas Chief Executive Susan Clews has worked in Acas frontline operations and as Director of Strategy and Chief Operations Officer. 

2023 feels like it has been the year of disputes – whether it be industrial disputes; disputes around personal identity; political disagreements; or on the wider geopolitical stage. Few of us have been unaffected. 

These are major, complex, and emotive issues. It can be incredibly hard to know where other people stand, and how what we say can impact them. 

Acas colleagues are affected by these issues too; and are hearing every day of the week how they are affecting you.

Taking the heat out of the conflict

Our advice in any situation of conflict is to try to retain understanding, empathy and respect; to listen more than speak; and when conversations start to become difficult, know where you can go to for help to de-escalate. 

Of course, Acas is already helping lots of employers and employees to resolve their disputes faster and earlier, which enables workplace relations to rebuild. In 2023, we've:

  • worked behind the scenes in around 600 collective disputes, and we have helped resolve 9 out of 10 of them to avoid the worst impacts of industrial action and strikes  
  • helped people in nearly 100,000 individual disputes. And we have continued to make improvements to the service, making it easier for people to move forward.

I have heard from employers involved in disputes how having a calm, trusted third party who can step back and listen to both sides helps create a solution everybody can be happy with. 

This confidential, quiet work doesn't hit the headlines. But we know how much difference it makes when people and organisations are able to find a way out of deadlock.  

Remember, conflict doesn't last forever, and while you are involved in it, it's worth thinking about what you want the world to look like on the other side. Rebuilding positive relationships and effective collaboration and trust should be the aim.

Don't let the emotion in the heat of the moment prevent a good future outcome

Thankfully, there are a lot of employers out there seeking to improve their workplace practices. 

Acas has a team of workplace experts are there to help. They have provided tailored support, training and more to over 115,000 people – helping them have the confidence and peace of mind to handle workplace issues and follow the law.  

And every day our helpline staff are there to provide advice and support, answering over 600,000 calls this year, with 85% of callers being clear about the next steps they need to take. And we have tools and tips for both employers and employees on our brilliant website. 

2024 – what really makes a difference? 

I have been struck throughout the year by how significant that ability to have an empathetic and effective conversation is.  

We know from frontline contact with people across the country, that having skilled confident managers can make all the difference in resolving problems and finding creative solutions for better workplaces and business growth. 

And as we look ahead to 2024, I am confident that there are simple and significant things we can all do to make working life better. 

So whatever challenges next year brings, our Acas promise is that we will be there, supporting Britain's workplaces.  

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a marked reduction in disputes for all of us in 2024.