Mediation in the workplace can benefit both the employer and the employee because it offers solutions that are creative, timely, and mutually acceptable if a disagreement goes through the process soon after it appears. At that point, the possibility of resolving it satisfactorily is greater because the differences between those involved in the dispute have not become explosive, the situation is usually more flexible, and more options are available.
A mediated resolution is more effective and durable that one handed down “from on high” because all of those involved have a stake in its success. In addition, the process promotes mutual respect by improving communication. Mediation can also heal and maintain tenuous working relationships, even when those concerned are quite angry.
In the workplace, virtually any dispute can be resolved successfully. However, the parties must be prepared to communicate with each other, and the organization must have the financial resources for providing a mediator. Eventually, in a workplace where mediation is the preferred process for settling disputes, colleagues and coworkers will become more skilled in settling their differences and learn the art of collaboration as well.
To develop a workplace mediation program, a company should create a panel of mediators and foster general acceptance of the process as a method for resolving disputes. To accomplish the first step, they should choose in-house mediators from among their employees and offer them professional training in mediation. Ideally, these individuals will have a reputation for being discreet, neutral, and fair-minded.
Note that if the group of mediators will be relatively large, the company should include people from various levels within the organization in order to ensure that there will be no “gaps” in the mediation structure. When a dispute requires the services of an outside mediator, the organization should prepare a list of professional mediators and allow those involved to choose from that. They should include pertinent data about these potential mediators and could also have the parties meet briefly with them prior to making their final choices.
The second step often proves to be more difficult. Ideally, the concept of mediation should be promoted before any dispute arises. Once that occurs, it is likely that one side will automatically reject any proposal the other side makes.
To avoid this, the mediation process should be made part of the organization’s personnel policies in a way that meets its needs. One method that has proven to be effective is to include in an in-house complaint review process. The Human Resource Department can then be authorized to provide mediation throughout the review process, or the proper reviewing authority can have the right to refer such issues to mediation.
At the same time, the company should also provide an informational program related to mediation, and most mediators will agree to do this. The program may include “staged” mediations, role-playing exercises to provide employees with firsthand experience with mediation, and the chance to ask questions regarding the process.
When a group of outside mediators conducts the program, there is an additional benefit because employees have a chance to see them at work. Consequently, they will find it easier to choose one of them if they are ever involved in a dispute that requires mediation.
About the author: Patrick Shelton is a San Francisco lawyer who wants to make sure that his clients each get a fair chance with the law.