Internal Workplace Dispute Resolution Programs

Unions and many public employers have utilized “grievance processes” for decades.  In essence, these grievance processes are an early, dispute resolution program.  However, they are predicated on an adversarial model of the employee vs. the employer.  As a result, these processes do not result in cooperation or even problem-solving, but rather on who was right.  For some, the grievance process is merely a necessary step to get to litigation rather than to get to resolution.

Litigation has its place.  However, in many cases, the parties, the lawyers, and usually every member of the jury, is able to point to missed opportunities to solve the problem or de-escalate the issue that prompted the lawsuit.   Recognizing the expense of litigation and the wisdom of conflict resolution, some employers have instituted “workplace mediation” programs, including in many segments of the federal government.

Some of these programs involve training co-workers in mediation, while others involve “in house” mediators or a panel of contract mediators.   They all, however, appear to have a common goal to facilitate discussion and problem-solving before the problem morphs into an abyss of distrust, gamesmanship, and other unproductive and unhealthy behaviors.  Often, a policy is in place that permits employees an easily accessible means to access the process, often through the human resources department.

In a workplace mediation, a third party works with the individuals to understand the problem, its business implications, and its interpersonal implications in order to assist with problem-solving and future-oriented planning.  From such discussions, the participants can often clear the air, gain a better understanding of the problems, and look into ways that will help them move forward in a reasonable manner.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  And, it is a simple application of thousands of years of the human experience on handling conflict productively….




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