Working with Acas – informing advice, policy and guidanceTue 28th Apr 2015
Researchers within the Institute for Research into Organisations, Work and Employment (iROWE) at the Lancashire Business School (University of Central Lancashire) have worked with policy-makers at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to provide new evidence in the areas of conflict management and downsizing. This research has been financed by grants from Acas and the ESRC. The results inform the work of Acas, which plays a pivotal role in shaping British employment relations and has had a significant impact on both wider practice and policy. These impacts were sustained through the co-ordination of an ESRC seminar series ‘reframing resolution’, co-sponsored by Acas.
The research has been undertaken in an economic and political context in which issues of workplace conflict resolution and downsizing have been central to public policy concerns. This has included a range of consultations over the UK system of dispute resolution and redundancy. A number of themes generated by the research resonate with public policy priorities, particularly the potential for mediation to facilitate dispute resolution and transform employment relations, and also the capacity of managers to handle difficult issues such as downsizing, grievance and discipline.
Benefits and impact
The research has played an important role in shaping the strategic direction of Acas and has resulted in the new Acas strategic plan being reformulated to emphasise the importance of promoting conflict management alongside their longstanding mission to improve dispute resolution. In the longer term, this will affect the way in which Acas delivers its services, advises key stakeholders (including government) and trains its staff.
iROWE research has resulted in new and revised guidance published by Acas. Dr Ian Ashman’s work on downsizing was integrated into a new guidance booklet on redundancy handling for managers (Acas 2012). The work led by Dr Richard Saundry informed the development of new guidance provided on ‘Representation at Work’ (Acas, 2010:18) and was used to highlight the positive role played by representatives in disciplinary and grievance hearings. In addition, research into the role of unions in workplace mediation (Saundry et al., 2013) informed the development of ‘Mediation – a guide for trade union representatives’ which was launched at the 2010 TUC Congress. Saundry and colleagues’ programme of research into workplace mediation was also widely cited in the reformulated guide to workplace mediation produced by Acas and the CIPD in February 2013.
The research has informed the development of policy. An Acas Policy Discussion Paper ‘The Future of Workplace Relations’ (Podro 2011), cited iROWE research to suggest that tensions between the approaches of line managers and HR practitioners could undermine informal dispute resolution, and also highlighted the role of mediation in improved workplace relations. Consequently, this informed the Acas response to the government’s consultation on ‘Resolving Workplace Disputes’ (Acas 2011). iROWE research was also cited by the government in the response to consultations over the use of contributory no fault dismissal for micro businesses (BIS, 2012) as evidence that changes would increase uncertainty for SMEs and could have the impact of undermining employee engagement. Most recently research into the participants’ experience of mediation has been cited in advice provided to the Australian Fair Work Commission in relation to the implementation of mediation in bullying and harassment cases.
Ashman’s work has been important in informing the Acas response to changing government policy in relation to redundancy consultation. The Acas response to the government’s call for evidence on this matter was contained in a letter dated 31st January 2012. On 6 April 2013, new government legislation came into effect relating to redundancy consultation. Acas were asked by the government to accompany these changes with new guidance for managers and organisations to ‘to help employers understand their legal obligations and sets out the principles and behaviours behind a good quality consultation to help employers manage collective redundancies more effectively’.
The work led by Ashman and Saundry has raised awareness, informed practice and garnered considerable coverage across a variety of major media outlets.
Acas (2010) Representation at Work, London: Acas Acas (2011) Resolving Workplace Disputes – A Consultation – Response
Acas(2012) Redundancy Handling Saundry, R., McArdle, L. and Thomas, P. (2013) ‘Reframing workplace relations? Conflict resolution and mediation in a Primary Care Trust’, Work Employment and Society, 27:2, 213–231.