Staff demand for conflict resolution services jumps 25 percent

The number of formal complaints filed by faculty and staff to the conflict resolution section of Human Resources has increased by 25 percent this year, a university official said.

Shari Barnes, conflict resolution facilitator, said the number of complaints received rises every year but this year’s 25 percent jump is the largest increase ever. It has been available to university staff members since October 2000 and to faculty members since May 2005, she said.

Barnes said she was initially surprised by the rise in complaints.

“I thought with the bad economy people would hesitate to raise issues at work,” Barnes said. “But with the difficult economic times, job and 401k losses people seem to need a place to vent.”

Barnes said that if the number of complaints continues at the current rate there will be about 700 complaints filed this year. She said that last year 585 complaints were filed, and in 2007 the number of complaints was 517.

According to university policy, the purpose of conflict resolution for faculty and staff is to provide a quick and fair method for the resolution of work-related problems and disputes.

Barnes said her role as conflict resolution facilitator is like being “a traffic cop.” She said she directs the process and helps faculty and staff members understand what their options are once they have filed a complaint.

Barnes said that while the number of complaints has increased, the nature of the complaints has remained the same.

“We’re all human here,” Barnes said. “Every range of problems from small irritations with co-workers to serious problems involving someone being terminated are covered.”

Stuart Youngblood, mediator for the Faculty Conflict Resolution Policy, said the increase in complaints filed is because the number of people covered by the policy increased from 1,000 to 1,500 when the program extended to include faculty members, not just staff members, in 2005.

Marsha Ramsey, also a mediator for the Faculty Conflict Resolution Policy, said that another reason the number of complaints have gone up this year is because the process has been better publicized.

“When I first started mediating people would come in unsure of what the process was,” Ramsey said. “Now people go through the process and have good experiences which makes them more likely to recommend this method to others.”

Barbara Wood, assistant professor of professional practice, said that although she would not use the faculty conflict resolution process as a way to solve problems she does think having that option available is good for the university.

“It’s better to address the problems and get it out for discussion rather than letting them sit under the radar and fester,” Wood said.

Barnes said that approximately 90 percent of complaints are resolved during the informal discussion procedure, which is the first step in the conflict resolution process.

Barnes said the university does a small amount of conflict resolution that does not directly involve university problems. For example, she said there have been instances where the university has handled family mediations.

“I think that what’s going on at home has the possibility to affect someone’s performance at their job,” Barnes said.

She said that the majority of mediation that involves a faculty or staff members’ family deals with teenagers in the home.

Barnes said that the increase in complaints does not necessarily point to more problems on campus but instead faculty and staff have discovered this as a more effective way to deal with issues. She said that other routes to file a complaint, like the university’s anonymous Ethics & Compliance Hotline, have seen a decrease in use because of the official conflict resolution process.

Youngblood said that the conflict resolution method of problem solving is effective because mediation allows people to work out their problems for themselves as opposed to having a resolution imposed on them.

“The success of this process represents a change in the culture of TCU,” Youngblood said. “It marks a move from dependency on others to solve problems to empowering the individuals involved in the conflict.”