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Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2007, 06:56 GMT
How to avoid workplace disputes
Rita Donaghy, chair of the arbitration service Acas, is the newest member of the BBC News Website's small business panel of experts.

Ready to answer readers e-mails about how best to deal with staff disputes, here she outlines Acas' work, and why good work relations are key for any company.

The world of work has certainly changed over the last 30 years.

People on computers
Good staff relations are vital for any firm, says Acas

The workplace is no longer somewhere that simply employs people, produces goods or services and adapts to change as best it can.

Instead the workplace is a now a dynamic environment.

It needs to promote equality, value diversity, develop team-working, encourage initiative and build relationships between employers and employees based on co-operation and, above all, trust.

Why? Because all of these things will help to make an organisation more productive than its competitors.

Whether you are a large or small firm, good employment relations are key to business success.

If you have the right policies and procedures in place, then you are well on your way to dealing with any people issues that arise.

If not dealt with properly, issues such as absenteeism, bullying and discipline can be costly.

Genuinely listen

With more than 30 years experience in employment relations, Acas understands that employers often find it difficult to get to grips with changes in legislation and what they mean in practice.

Staff need to know what is expected of them in terms of standards of performance and behaviour

Our good practice advice and guidance makes it easier to keep up-to-date with the issues.

We recently helped thousands of individuals and employers understand what the new age discrimination rules meant to them.

Acas also provides training to equip people with the skills to deal confidently with employment relations issues as well as one-to-one projects to help businesses.

With any new workplace policies or procedures, good communication is key.

Employers should keep their employees informed and genuinely listen to their views.

By acknowledging the value of people's work you are more likely to have a motivated workforce that can be vital for building confidence and encouraging initiative.

Developing relationships is also about treating employees fairly - by developing equality and diversity policies - promoting flexible working, wherever possible, and encouraging staff to develop new skills.

Prevention first

Nevertheless most organisations, however well-managed, will sooner or later encounter problems in their workplace.

When this happens, they will be easier to deal with if employees and managers know about and are clear on what the procedures mean in practice.

For example, people need to know what is expected of them in terms of standards of performance and behaviour.

Employees don't like to see colleagues ignoring rules or to see rules applied inconsistently or on the whim of a manager.

If there is a breakdown in a working relationship, mediation is a way to help people who don't see eye to eye sort out any differences quickly.

In appropriate cases, it is an informal, economic and relatively stress-free means of solving the problem and getting back to work.

Prevention is always better than cure, which is why Acas' advice, training and information helps organisations and businesses of all sizes develop good employment relations and find success.

To ask Rita Donaghy a question about how to best cope with any staff disputes, use the e-mail form below.

Alternatively you can e-mail another member of our small business and entrepreneurship panel of experts by clicking on one of the links on the right.

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