By Kevin Basnett, 27th February 2021
Historically the employment relationship has been stigmatised, for good reason, with thinking that it is a very one-sided affair in terms of the power relationship. If you are old enough to remember some of the brutal employer / employee power disputes of the 1970s and 1980s e.g. the Miners’ strikes and Grunwick and the legislation that Margaret Thatcher brought in to dilute the ability to strike you may well feel and, you may be right, that we live in more harmonious times now.
However, many of us in the law still call the contractual employment relationship one of master and servant and this very strongly describes its historical roots.
What makes a great employer and employee relationship?
One would like to think that we now live in a more sophisticated age in which many employers are understanding that if they treat their staff “right” they will have a more harmonious efficient and productive workforce.
However, like all relationships including marriage, sometimes work relations break down and an employee may feel that they might be happier elsewhere or if they need a change in the relationship to make it easier for them to get out of bed in the morning and go to work with a spring in their step.
The very best employers will recognise this and have procedures in place to deal with grievances, wellbeing, suggestions for improvement, development plans, career progression and a whole plethora of engagement to ensure, so far as it is possible the relationship is harmonious, constructive and productive .
But what can we do if as an employee if we feel that we have got to the point where we need to do something to improve our lot, but we are not quite sure where to turn, what option to take or how to do it?
As an employer, what can you do if you fall out of love with our job?
Perhaps the first thing to consider is a plan B. A constructive alternative in a suitable congenial role. Shit or bust, if “I do not get what I want I’ll simply leave” is not really a plan B, it is more like a plan Z. Dignity and self-respect are often really important and that will go out of the window. So it would be very wise to investigate the market to see what is out there and be comfortable that you have either got a plan B or you are higher up the alphabet than Z.
Next, will be to honestly and truly consider whether or not the relationship is worth investing in. If it is just one small aspect of your job that you are not liking, that may be more susceptible to change or avoidance than many aspects of your job. Or if the culture or values of the employer are not equal to your own that is likely to be fundamental. Frequently we see the culture of employers change when there is a change of ownership or a massive reorganisation or a takeover. Sometimes unbeknown to employees there is a hidden agenda to change the culture, working relationships and operations as part of a merger / takeover or restructuring which only becomes obvious sometime after the event. Having an honest look at the relationship and making a realistic appraisal is a good thing to do. Is this employer my future? Would I like it to be my future? Are good questions to ask. The old pros and cons checklist is one way of going about this.
Having carried out this analysis then work out a plan. Can you talk to colleagues? Can you talk to your Line Manager? Who can you talk to and who do you trust and have confidence in? Hopefully there is someone you can raise your concerns with at an informal level. If there is not then that may tell you something about the company’s culture. If there is no one then ultimately you may have to resort to the “grievance procedure” or if the company does not have one (perhaps it is small and not well resourced ), the ACAS Code for dealing with grievances is a good guide.
If you do decide to invoke the grievance procedure it is really helpful if you have carried out the analysis above so that you can itemise and identify what is wrong with the relationship and what could be improved .Most importantly if you can make constructive balanced suggestions for improvement that can be really helpful. Just saying to the employer, “I am unhappy, and you have got a problem” is not very constructive and may indicate to the employer that you are the problem. Saying to the employer “I feel I have a problem; this is how it makes me feel but this is how I would feel better” may be a much more constructive approach. The more help you can give an employer to help sort out the problems, the more likely you are to get your result or at least you maintain dignity having done the right thing and also it will look good. Why does it need to look good? Sometimes the issues end up in the Employment Tribunal and if they can see that you have been dignified and tried to be constructive and taken a reasonable approach that will help them on the tricky issues of fairness and credibility .
Say the grievance does not work?. Well, there is always plan B i.e. resign and take up more congenial work with your head high and dignity preserved. But there are other options:-
For example, it is often generally be assumed that it is for the employer and employer alone to offer some sort of settlement deal. It is fair to say that we see most Settlement Agreements proffered where employers have taken the initiative and often there is some sort of threat involved such as capability or misconduct proceedings. Or at the milder end they are just used as a short cut to avoid the management involved in conducting fair redundancy terminations. Replace time, effort and emotion with money. It has it’s place.
However, there is nothing wrong at all with an employee invoking Section 111A of the Employment Rights Act, the statutory route for trying to arrange a severance deal and this may be a good option in some cases. This is particularly so where the employee has done their homework and their analysis of the difficulties that they and the employer face is correct. Then there may be mutual understanding and a beter chance of deal with dignity, trust and confidence for both sides. Mutual respect and investment. Just going in blind without the analysis is not likely to work because the employer is likely to play hardball. They may even deny that the employee has any right to be aggrieved or upset and they may just use their power imbalance just to see what the employee does next. Or they may hope that the employee or the issue simply goes away. Intransigence is not a management tool but often seems to be used as one!
Obviously, as an employee if you have a genuine grievance about something unlawful e.g. some form of discrimination then proffering a Settlement Agreement may be much more powerful because it could solve the employer’s problem for them. However, the value in any deal is how good plan B is. If one gets a large financial settlement but spends a lot of time out of work then it becomes a poor deal whereas a small Settlement Agreement with a great plan B and little or no time out of work could be a great deal.
Much of this is about psychology, the personal psychology and psyche of the individual and the cultural psyche and approach to these issues by the employer / corporate. Some Employers be extremely hardnosed and tight, and some can be reasonable and even generous. A good understanding of this is often crucial.
Best general advice is do your analysis right; do your preparation right; be confident about your plan and what you want to achieve and what you are prepared to accept and have a good plan B in place. When you are comfortable with this then you are good to go. “Woe is me”, “Sort my problems out” does not generally in the employment relationship as in life, do the business. Your work, your career , your well-being is your business.
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