Mediation: A Possible Asset for EAPs: Though Mediation Is Not Always a Good Fit for Workplace Disputes, Mediation Services Can Provide EAPs with Another Tool to Add to Their Repertoire of Skills

By Wilburn, Chris | The Journal of Employee Assistance, January-March 2006 | Go to article overview

Mediation: A Possible Asset for EAPs: Though Mediation Is Not Always a Good Fit for Workplace Disputes, Mediation Services Can Provide EAPs with Another Tool to Add to Their Repertoire of Skills


Wilburn, Chris, The Journal of Employee Assistance


About 12 years ago, I got a call from a police officer concerned about problems he was having with his 7-year-old son, who was acting out at school. The officer explained to me that he was divorced from his son's mother. The divorce had been difficult and was still causing tension, and it appeared that the conflict was the source of the son's behavior problems.

After talking with the officer, I obtained his reluctant permission to call his ex-wife to discuss their song problems. To my surprise, she said she was willing to come to my office and talk with her ex-husband about the issue. I was even more surprised when, out of mutual concern for their son, they agreed to work together to resolve their conflict. Almost immediately thereafter, their son's behavior improved greatly.

It is difficult to overstate how wonderful it feels to work with an employee and help him/her successfully resolve a problem. In this particular case, the successful intervention with the police officer helped get me interested in the issue of mediation.

CONCRETE SOLUTIONS

At that time, the City of Savannah was facing a number of workplace conflicts that also beset many larger organizations. These conflicts typically arose as a result of miscommunication between two workers but then grew; bringing others into the fray. Over time, the unresolved conflict would cause all sorts of work performance problems.

Though I was often asked by supervisors to address these conflicts, I began to realize that I was not always effective in resolving the underlying disputes and could benefit from learning a new skill. I wondered if there was a way to use formal mediation training to become better equipped to resolve conflict in the workplace. The city's Human Resource Department not only offered to pay for me to be trained but also encouraged several other city employees to register for the training.

I completed the basic 20-hour mediation training and then proceeded to seek certification as a mediator, which required undergoing observed mediations, co-mediations, and supervised mediations. I then applied to the Office of Dispute Resolution under the State Supreme Court to become a mediator.

With my background in therapy I found mediation training to be easy, though the mediation model is a more formal process of getting disputants to come to the table to talk about the problem. This model is good at setting guidelines, motivating the disputants to find resolution, and using techniques like caucusing when the disputants can't reach harmony Mediation also seeks to find concrete solutions to problems--in fact, at the end of the process, the disputants are expected to put the solution to their problem in writing.

I received a lot of support from the Human Resources Department in seeking to be more proactive toward resolving conflicts. The department rewrote the city's grievance policy to focus more on conflict resolution--for example, including mediation as a tool for supervisors to resolve conflicts (with the understanding that it would be overseen by the EAP). Human Resources also created a new position, that of employee relations coordinator, to help establish employee focus groups and address issues causing employee conflicts. The employee relations coordinator and the EAP work together to teach managers at all levels better techniques for resolving conflicts.

ISSUES TO CONSIDER

Since these changes were implemented, there have probably been an average of five or six mediation procedures conducted each year. Most of them have helped the disputants resolve their conflict, and I believe many EAPs could benefit by incorporating mediation into their conflict resolution toolbox.

Mediation and dispute resolution is a growing field that has been dominated by attorneys who are in the lucrative position of spending many hours trying to help people resolve conflicts while charging very high fees. …

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