The challenge of managing informally

Saundry, Richard Arthur, Jones, Carol and Wibberley, Gemma orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7827-8227 (2015) The challenge of managing informally. Employee Relations, 37 (4). pp. 428-441. ISSN 0142-5455

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– The purpose of this paper is to explore the orientations of line managers in handling workplace conflict. In particular it examines the tension between the traditional preference of frontline managers for informal approaches and the perceived certainty of written disputes procedures.


– The paper draws upon findings from 12 organisational case studies, focusing on interviews conducted with HR and managers.


– As line managers undertake more responsibility for people management, their preferences for informal approaches to workplace issues appears to be being replaced by a more rigid adherence to policy and procedure. This is largely driven by a lack of confidence and expertise in conflict management and a fear of the repercussions (both legal and organisational) of mishandling difficult issues. Written procedure therefore provides managers with both a systematic guide but also a protective shield against criticism and litigation.

Research limitations/implications

– It is not possible to generalise from a limited sample, therefore this suggested change requires further exploration to assess whether it has been evidenced in organisations more widely.

Practical implications

– For practitioners this research highlights the critical requirement for organisations to develop key skills among line managers to enable them to respond effectively to problems at an early stage.

Social implications

– For policy-makers, the barriers to line managers implementing informal resolution should be considered.


– This paper enriches understanding of line managers’ current role in people management and the challenges they face in doing so informally.

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