Disagreements in the workplace are very common. Prudent management of these disagreements is beneficial to both employees and organizations. There are numerous studies on conflict management in the workplace. However, this paper is different in the sense that it incorporates ethical aspects of the mediation process. The study will entail analysis of the policies used by Singapore Airlines to manage conflicts among employees, the ethical dilemma facing the HR staff, and the alternative solutions.
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Disagreements within the work environment are unavoidable. If managed prudently, they can act as a medium for change and may have a positive effect on workers. On the contrary, if conflicts are not managed well, they may have a negative impact on job performance and employee satisfaction. When disagreements are ignored by the management, it gives an idea that unacceptable job performance and unfortunate conducts are tolerable (Maldonado, 2012, p. 1). Well managed conflicts are most common in organizations and institutions that encourage open communication, teamwork, regular response and prompt resolution of conflicts (Classen & Reiner, 2005, p. 5).
On the contrary, an environment that does not promote conflict resolution may lead to poor conduct among staff members and unacceptable job performance (Maldonado, 2012, p. 2). Regardless of the negative effect of unhandled conflict, most managers tend to ignore the problem until it becomes serious. Routine conflicts are often viewed as minor differences between employees, which do not warrant any action. Regrettably, unresolved conflicts more often than not grow and spread like a bonfire, eventually affecting employees’ job performance and satisfaction (Classen & Reiner, 2005, p. 4).
One of the most recent case studies conducted in the airline industry emphasizes on the importance of in-house mediation in solving individual disputes and providing appropriate solutions (Wensveen, 2010), p. 22). However, this study will be different in the sense that it will incorporate the ethical aspect of the mediation process. In so doing, the study will examine ethical decision-making dilemmas that affect conflict management. The paper will address the challenges facing HR managers and possible solutions. The main focus will be on the Singapore Airlines.
Ethics and Conflict Management
Ethics is a very crucial factor in service delivery. Generally, there are three forms of ethics. The first form of ethics is descriptive ethics, which emphasizes on the disparities of moral standards among societies. The second form of ethics is normative ethics, which describes the norms that are accepted in one society, but are denounced in another society. The third form of ethics is analytic ethics, which fosters the idea of comparative levels of morality (Harris, Sapienza & Bowie, 2009, p. 407).
Business ethic is a combination of all the three forms of ethics. Business ethic is defined as the assessment of the manner in which people or organizations are expected to conduct themselves in the field of business (Harris et al., 2009, p. 409). Business ethic is concerned with the various ethical principles or ethical problems that occur in the different fields of business. In addition, business ethic focuses on the behavior of the business or various stakeholders that run the business (Harris et al., 2009, p. 410).
Business ethic is normally applied in the aviation sector to ensure that airline companies are properly managed in accordance with the ethical standards. Ethics plays the role of moderating ethical behavior that cannot be regulated by the statutory laws. The government normally uses laws to enforce the required standards (Chau & Siu, 2000, p. 367). Business ethics, on the other hand, are used by businesses to set up a standard of behaviors that are not captured by the statutory laws. The development of business ethics has been enhanced by the rise of big business entities that do not pay more attention to the welfare of its workers and other stakeholders (Harris et al., 2009, p. 4011).
Conflict management and ethics in the workplace often act together in a complex system of power relations, hierarchical structure, and contradicting goals of competitiveness and fairness. The human resource department oversees this interaction (Gramberg & Teicher, 2005, p. 2).
Some of the responsibilities of the HR managers include conflict resolution and delivery of justice in the workplace. Nonetheless, the HR managers cannot be regarded as neutral mediators. Therefore, one of the ethical decision-making dilemmas facing many HR managers when managing conflict in the workplace is whether to adhere to the organization’s ethical standards, statutory laws or directives from the top. In other words, the HR managers are often faced with an ethical decision-making dilemma when managing conflict in the workplace (Gramberg & Teicher, 2005, p. 4).
The study examined the Singapore Airline through an exploratory context analysis. The purpose of this study was to explore the methods used in managing conflict in the airline company and its challenges. Therefore, the technique used in this research was based on the experiences and viewpoints of representatives of the employees and key members of the human resource department. The study entailed the following:
- Analysis of the policies used by Singapore Airlines in tackling conflicts among employees.
- Semi-structured interviews with key members of the human resource department and employee representatives.
- Analysis of the primary data with the help of secondary research.
The study employed the three categories of exploration configuration, that is, exploratory research, descriptive exploration and causal examination (Easterby, Thorpe &Jackson, 2008, p. 45). Exploratory research basically investigates on the way of the issue keeping in mind the end goal to draw derivations. In this situation, the analyst is in a decent position to comprehend the issue under scrutiny.
The stream of exploratory exploration includes recognizing the issue and looking to discover the fitting arrangements and new thoughts. On the other hand, descriptive exploration is generally appropriate in circumstances where the structure of the examination issue is not unequivocal. Lastly, causal examination is the sort of study whereby there is an unmistakable structure of the examination issue. In this situation the specialist is intrigued to investigate on the reason impact relationship. The reasons are recognized, broke down and the degree of the impacts is checked on (Easterby, Thorpe &Jackson, 2008, p. 46).
The study population comprised of HR staff and employee representative. The purposive sampling technique was used to select sample based on judgments about the appropriate characteristics required of the sample respondent. This technique allows the researcher to select a sample to serve a specific purpose of sampling. In this design, not every participant in the study has an equal chance of being chosen. Non-probability sampling design does not utilize much cost and time, hence it is widely preferred. The sample frame included 2 HR managers, 10 HR contacts and 8 employee representatives.
Participation was on a voluntary and confidential basis. The study was done in two phases. The first phase of the study involved examination of the existing conflict resolution mechanism, whereas the second phase involved 20 in-depth interviews with key members of the human resource department and employee representatives. The interviews were carried out strictly on management staff due to the sensitivity of the matter and confidential nature of the conflict management processes. In any case, it is necessary to note that a section of the administrative respondents involved junior managers (HR contacts). This is because they could offer a double perspective of being overseen and as administrators. The interviews were carried out either through the phone and on a one-on-one basis.
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Data Analysis Technique
The study used both the qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques to analyze data. This will ensure that the data will be analyzed in a systematic way in order to come to some useful conclusion.
Assumptions and limitation of the study
The study assumed that the sample size of 20 respondents was large enough as per the requirements for reliable data from which inferences and conclusions can be made. Another assumption was that all respondents were truthful in their answers. On the other hand, the main limitation of the study was translation of questions to respondents since Singapore airline is a global company.
The researcher successfully managed to interview all the 20 respondents. The majority of the employees were satisfied with their work and only a small section was uncertain. They also agreed that conflict often arises among employees and the main source of conflict is usually communication breakdown. The most common kind of conflict in the company is interpersonal conflict. These conflicts are always destructive in the sense that the company always loses some of its finest personnel as a result of these conflicts. In addition, conflicts in the organization are normally handled by the HR managers through a conciliation process.
. The company’s policy is based on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) code that guides conflict resolution in the aviation industry. The code provides procedures for handling grievances within the industry (Wensveen, 2010, p. 56). The study established that the ICAO’s code does not guarantee fairness and justice. The process often suffers from the problem of neutrality and impartiality. According to the global mediation standards, individuals leading the mediation process should have no relationship or vested interests with the parties involved.
The study also established that ethical behavior of the HR managers is not only a rare function of personal value, but is also dictated by other forces. Therefore, the fear of risking one’s employment prompts HR managers to compromise ethical standard during the negotiation process. In addition, the study found out that the HR managers face numerous challenges in meeting the preconditions of neutrality. These challenges include inability to make informed choices and conflict of interest with the superiors. In a nutshell, the dilemma facing the HR managers is whether to adhere to ethical standards or directive from the top hierarchy.
This ethical decision-making dilemma during conflict resolution is not new. In fact, a study conducted by Gramberg and Teicher (2005, p. 9) on workplace equality established that many managers were basically focused on tasks or results and, therefore, their decisions were more to do with tangible goal achievement and less to do with justice. The prioritization of financial gain over ethics is well explained by Chau and Siu (2000, p. 367). Chau and Siu (2000, p. 367) argues that the main goal of many organizations is capital gain. As a result, long-term commitment to impartiality is impossible to sustain.
Gramberg and Teicher (2005, p. 10) argues that, even if the ethical code was applied, there is no law that prompts organizations to do so. Since ICAO gives airlines power to develop their own policies and procedures for conflict resolution, the HR managers are under no obligation to stick to them as long as they have support from the “above”. Hartman and Desjardins (2014, p. 7) explain that decision makers are always faced with numerous challenges during the mediation process. These challenges include goals to be achieved, inability to make informed choices, the clash of interest with the superiors of the business, and lack of cooperation among various stakeholders.
Hartman and Desjardins (2014, p. 7) add that ethical decision-making is mainly influenced by business environment. Therefore, decisions often change with the environment. In addition, ethical decisions vary from one business to another. For instance, the kind of ethical decisions that are made in the airline industry is different from the decisions that are made in the manufacturing sector (Hartman & Desjardins, 2014, p. 8).
The solution to this dilemma
An effective decision-making model and an efficient code of ethics can help the HR managers make productive and justifiable decisions. The HR managers who make good ethical decisions are in a good position to market themselves as ethical professionals with high integrity (Harris et al., 2009, p. 409). One of the most effective models that can help to prevent the above dilemma is the Fischer’s model for ethical decision-making (Fischer, 2000).
According to the model, conflict management must take into consideration of the following: the mission of the organization, the relationships among the colleagues and other stakeholders, and the level of personal integrity. The mission of the organization should be considered so as to make sure that the decisions that are made do not violate the long-term objective of the organization (Fischer, 2000, p. 13).
It is also important to note how the decision made is going to affect the status of relationships that exist among the employees or between the aggrieved parties and the HR managers, or between the organization and the members of the society. Lastly, it is very important to consider how the decision is going to impact on the individual’s personal integrity (Fischer, 2000, p. 13). Fischer’s model implies that when making ethical decisions, HR managers will always be guided by the culture of the business, the ethical codes that govern the business, and the morals or values of the business (Fischer, 2000, p. 14).
Decision-making through Fischer’s model is very flexible in that it allows for mistakes. However, the mistakes are only allowed after paying attention to the three critical areas. This is because it is easy to correct the mistakes and choose the right decision from many alternatives (Fischer, 2000, p. 13).
In addition, the organization should embrace team roles as a way of solving interpersonal conflicts. According to Aritzeta et al. (2005, p.), team configuration is the best technique for solving interpersonal conflict. They argue that team role is best suited in enhancing cooperation and competition among team members. This is because the relationship among individuals can be affected by competitive conduct, which can result to disagreement. For that reason, employees should be given a chance to handle their differences at the team level.
The alternative solution to the dilemma
The dilemma can also be handled through a comprehensive conflict management program. The airline needs to look beyond the conventional conflict management programs and code of ethics. The programs can be customized for a specific institution or company. One of such programs is the REDRESS program. REDRESS is an abbreviation for Resolving Employment Disputes and Reaching an Equitable Solution Swiftly (Harvey & Ventura, 2005, p. 87). The REDRESS program originated from the postal staff in Florida. The program is aimed at managing disputes in a more effective and prompt manner. The program is currently gaining popularity across different sectors (Harvey & Ventura, 2005, p. 88).
The recommended solution to the dilemma
The problem of neutrality and impartiality can be best tackled by a panel of independent mediators. The panel should incorporate the elements of Fischer’s model and REDRESS program in the negotiation process. Fischer’s model will ensure that the three critical areas are incorporated in decision-making, that is, the mission of the organization, the relationships among the colleagues and other stakeholders, and the level of personal integrity.
At the same time, the REDRESS program will ensure that neutral and impartial solution is reached promptly. However, the approach must adhere to the International Civil Aviation Organization code and conventional practices of conflict resolution. In addition, the approach should be based on an in-house mediation scheme, where differences among employees are resolved at an early stage. The process should involve team members and workers representatives to enhance confidence and to prevent any form of bias. The role of the mediation process should be to “recover” and “repair”.
Well managed conflicts act as a medium for change and may have a positive effect on employees. On the contrary, if conflicts are not managed well, they may have a negative impact on job performance and employee satisfaction. In the aviation industry, the performance and conduct of the employees are very important since they affect the safety of the passengers. For this reason, prudent management of conflict is very crucial. Like many other organizations, conflict management in the Singapore Airlines is handled by the HR department and is based on the ICAO’s code. However, the code does not guarantee fairness and justice.
The Airline’s conflict resolution process often suffers from the problem of neutrality and impartiality. This is mainly attributed to influence from the top. This problem can be tackled effectively by a panel of independent mediators. Nevertheless, the panel should not only incorporate the elements of Fischer’s model and REDRESS program, but also take into account the ICAO’s code and conventional practices of conflict resolution. Last but not least, the process should be based on an in-house mediation scheme where conflicts are resolved at an early stage.
Aritzeta, A., Ayestaran, S. and Swailes, S. (2005). Team role preference and conflict management styles. The International Journal of Conflict Management, 16 (2), 157-182. Web.
Chau, L.L., & Siu, W. (2000). Ethical decision-making in corporate entrepreneurial organizations. Journal of Business Ethics, 23 (4), 365-375. Web.
Classen, R., & Reiner, D. (2005). Conflict, Collaboration and Change. Fresno, California: Centre for Peacekeeping and Conflict Studies. Web.
Easterby, M., Thorpe, R., & Jackson, P. (2008). Management Research. London: Sage Publications. Web.
Fischer, M. (2000). Ethical Decision Making in Fundraising. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons. Web.
Gramberg, B., & Teicher, J. (2005). Managing Neutrality and impartiality in workplace conflict resolution: The dilemma of the HR Manager. Working Paper 57/05. Web.
Harris, J.D., Sapienza, H.J., & Bowie, N.E. (2009). Ethics and entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 24 (5), 407-418. Web.
Hartman, L.P., & Desjardins, J. (2014). Business Ethics, Decision-Making for Personal Integrity and Social Responsibility (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill. Web.
Harvey, E., & Ventura, S. (2005). What to do when conflict happens. Flower Mound, Texas: The Walk the Talk Company. Web.
Maldonado, T.M. (2012). Managing Conflict from the Heart: Healthcare Leaders’ Approaches in Transforming Conflict in Better Patient Care (Master’s Thesis. Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California). Web.
Wensveen, J. (2010). The Airline Industry: Trends, Challenges and Strategies. New York, USA: Dowling College. Web.
Appendix 1: Questionnaire
This is an academic research study and your participation is voluntary. Information provided will be confidentially and individual data will be reported. THANK
- What is your position in the company?
- HR Manager
- HR personnel
- Employee representative
- Are you satisfied with your work?
- Very satisfied
- Neutral Dissatisfied
- Very Dissatisfied
- Do you often have conflicts among employees?
- What kind of conflict do employees always have?
- Interpersonal conflict
- Intergroup conflict
- Intragroup conflict
- Others (Please specify)
- The conflicts at the work place are usually….
- What are the common sources of the conflict
- Common resources
- Lack of knowledge of others responsibilities
- Goal Differences
- Authority Relationships Jurisdiction ambiguities
- Personal conflicts
- Communication breakdown
- Who handles conflicts among employees?
- Line Managers
- HR Manager
- Independent Entities
- What technique is often used?
- Peer review
- Are the employees always satisfied with the verdict?
- Not Sure
- If not, what is the reason for dissatisfaction?