Workplace conflict negatively impacts employees, teams and can influence the entire organization. Office conflict is recognized as a source of burnout, decreased job satisfaction and diminished job performance. Employees also report depression and increased anxiety due to office conflict. Mediation is an underutilized tool to diffuse or resolve workplace conflict and employment disputes.
Workplace conflicts that have arisen in the wake of the pandemic. The pandemic and its aftermath have shifted many attitudes toward work. That said, the pandemic impacted employees and employers alike. Some employees found the pandemic a time for introspection, and this brought a change in priorities. This reflection was also impacted by perception employees hold about how they’ve been treated during the pandemic. In some instances, the pandemic experience significantly altered employees’ view of their employer, their work duties and requirements within the work environment. Conflict is seen whether a business has decided to maintain or end a hybrid work model, with colleagues not respecting social distancing or safety protocols, expectations of formality and behavior on video-calls and even work ethic differences between different age groups. This has led to an increase in team mediations to address conflicts between larger groups of employees and supervisors/management. These challenges are also recognized by employers but experience tension with employee concerns and the desire to move forward with focus on business.
Whatever the conflict, some employees feel they are in a stronger position to stand up for what they want, and if they remain dissatisfied, they will walk. Employees are more comfortable speaking up more, be that as an individual with coworkers, within a team environment, or asserting their views to their employers. While conflict is frequently seen as a negative, it is through this process that individuals, teams, and organizations inspire, innovate, and grow.
The goal of mediation is to facilitate open and honest dialogue between disputing parties so that they can secure a mutually acceptable outcome. A mediator’s role is to act as an impartial third party who facilitates the discussion between individuals or teams experiencing conflict to help them reach a resolution and agreement. Although the mediator directs the process, participants take part in crafting any resolution or agreement. This in turn, emphasizes ownership on the part of the parties which makes them more invested in holding up their end of an agreement.
In workplace conflict mediations, the mediator is not there to judge whether one person is right and the other wrong, or to tell those involved in the mediation what they should do. A skilled mediator will facilitate constructive dialogue and interactions.
In this way, mediation differs from litigation as it tends to promote collaborating rather than blaming.
Working with participants in a supportive environment is important to ensure “buy-in” to the process. It also serves to foster confidence that by engaging in the process, they may achieve a positive outcome and increases skills that allow them to resolve workplace difficulties for themselves in future.
Mediation is preferred to more formal methods, such as litigation, as it:
- Promotes empathy by acknowledging the other participants’ position(s).
- It encourages people to be more open to compromise.
- It can maintain and improve relationships.
- It avoids the costs involved with litigation and other formal employment claims.
- It is less stressful and efficient to promptly address conflict.
- Medication promotes collaboration and builds problem-solving skills to promote self-esteem and team building.
Mediators support participants by helping them engage in open conversations that would normally be too difficult. They do this by exploring all the issues and concerns each faction brings to the meeting and helping the participants empathize with the varying positions. The mediator should encourage communication that will facilitate joint problem-solving to find a solution that each side feels is fair. Businesses may incorporate mediation services to ensure greater employee satisfaction which promotes retention of the organizations team. Benefits that include mediation services are an investment which signals to employees that not only are they are important but valued.