At a workplace as large as the Faculty of Science, it is not uncommon for minor conflicts to arise between members of staff. It is very important that we have an effective and professional way to manage this. In most cases, things work out and we can resolve our disagreements.
However, sometimes that is not the case. Then, problems can grow into major conflicts that may involve large groups of staff. In such a case, the way back is long and difficult. Those involved have no trust in each other or the management, and external help is needed to iron out the problems.
For over a year, we have had just such a major conflict at the faculty and all those involved have suffered. Overall responsibility for the faculty’s work environment rests with the dean. I can only state that up to now I have not succeeded in resolving the problems. For some time now, I have been receiving help with how to manage the situation and we are working very intensively so that with professional assistance we can get on the right track.
How could things go so wrong?
This is an important question to ask and answer. Not in order to point out who is in the wrong – that is not how the Swedish work environment operates – but to understand and with time resolve the situation that has arisen. It is also important that we are able to improve the way in which we work preventively. Every conflict is unique and as academic leaders we are rarely confronted with these problems. Often, we can resolve minor conflicts at an early stage. We may actually convince ourselves that we know what to do. We are of course used to being highly competent in a certain field, so why not in another? But when things go badly wrong, we must ask for help. Professional help. If you wait too long to do it, the problems escalate out of control, and the way back becomes very long. I waited too long and now we are where we are. It is a long way back, but I believe and hope that we are now moving in the right direction.
How then are we to work from now on and what can you expect of the faculty?
Conflicts and victimisation are bad for the work environment. Conflict resolution and managing victimisation are all about leadership. In future, we will react faster and get help at an earlier stage when it is needed. Before the pandemic, an initiative was started to strengthen expertise at department level and we will continue with this. Managers, led by heads of department, must get tools and support at an early stage to be able to get to the bottom of things that affect the psychosocial work environment. The physical work environment is, of course, equally important, but I would probably dare to say that it is not as complicated.
Conflict resolution also involves teamwork. We will be better at keeping staff and students informed about the principles and possibilities for work environment management. We are all responsible for the work environment – we are each other’s work environment! That is easy to understand when everything is fine, but difficult to accept when you think there is good reason for feeling you have been treated badly. The individual’s experience will always be taken seriously, and people are to feel secure about bringing up violations.
There are no rapid solutions to this type of problem. It cannot be expected that they will disappear because of a single measure; the only way is through long-term systematic work. Our faculty is not alone in this and we are now working at LU level to create systems for better and more robust action plans for a good work environment. Because, with the benefit of hindsight, I want nothing more than to be much better – best! – at this!
I would now like to wish you a pleasant summer, and once again thank you for all the adaptations you have made during the overbearing pandemic year. Now, things are easing up!
Sven Lidin, dean