More and more people in the Australian business world are hearing about the uses of workplace mediation as a useful alternative to litigation in resolving disputes between employees, between employees and management, or between the company and its customers. Some companies have even instituted the use of mediation as a company policy, to be used as a first line of defence in the hopes that conflicts will not escalate into costly, and at times damaging court cases.
Mediation can solve workplace conflicts?
Recently, I was asked to be involved in a workplace mediation. There was a workplace conflict between a long standing employee and a new employee who was a foreign worker.
The new employee had alleged that he had been the victim of racial vilification by his colleague. The colleague made some passing jokes in the tearoom about race and gender.
After speaking with both employees individually, it was deemed that the Employee was made the alleged remarks did this without intent to harm. The employee was mortified and embarrassed that his ‘simple joke’ could be construed into a racial attack.
Both employees and their management were wanting to resolve this matter swiftly and professionally. I advised that the two people in conflict sit down together and settle their differences. If given a chance, the proper environment, and reasonable motivation most conflicts can be solved.
- The chance was an offer to use a mediator’s (my) help to talk to each other.
- The proper environment was a neutral, safe, confidential area with no outside distractions or other employee visibility.
- The motivation was to resolve the conflict without escalating the conflict to another arena (such as a courtroom). In which all parties might be seriously affected.
Thankfully, this workplace mediation went well. Both employees were given a chance to speak and listen respectfully of each other. There was an apology offered and gratefully accepted. Management offered counselling for both employees (politely declined, but appreciated). Both employees shook hands and it ended there. A good outcome.
Why does it work?
Workplace conflict can be resolved successfully using mediation. So why does it work?
- It enables people to hear each other and work out their own disputes in a safe environment with neutral assistance.
- De-emphasise guilt and punishment but promote understanding by creating a plan for how people will get along in the future.
- Most people in conflict are motivated to reach an agreement without taking the fight to another level (such as court).
- Resolving conflict in a court generally comes at a greater cost, animosity, damaged relationships and the risk of further trauma to employees.
Mediation in the workplace deals with conflict in the most sensible and effective way, while being private and inexpensive.
That’s just good business.