Workplace Mediation -- When Traditional Steps Don't Satisfy

Increasingly, labor unions and their employers in the US are testing the waters of workplace mediation. Bloomberg BNA notes that in 2014 the number of workplace mediations held increased 18% over the preceding 24 months. The NY Times has similar reports. And The Washington Post writes recently that it appears it is labor unions that are driving much of the growth.

The stats on mediation success remain difficult to come by. Suffice it to say, however, that employers are listening to their employees, their employee relations professionals, and to union representatives (including attorneys) about the need to decrease the time involved in complaint resolution.

An impressive number of local unions that have the autonomy to negotiate mediation language into their collective bargaining agreements (or into mid-term letters of agreement) are devising ways to streamline their grievance processes. The traditional three or four step models (with built-in time limits) are simply not satisfying members. Progressive union leaders are touting their use of mediation and "same day" resolutions as part of their membership drives.

Employer handbooks are being rewritten to improve company response times. Non-represented employees, including management, are demanding to have their concerns decided upon in a matter of days. They don't understand, and won't sign up for, procedures and bureaucracy that require them to wait for 6 months or a year.

Some companies have turned to in-house mediation programs to host issues in a more congenial and cooperative atmosphere. Others prefer outside mediation since it offers greatly reduced costs and minimal staff commitments. Either way, employees, their employers, and their representatives are looking to workplace mediation as the tool to resolve issues -- because the traditional approach simply does not satisfy.


Thornton Mason is a national dispute resolution consultant and human relations mediator with 25 years of experience resolving over 1200 employee matters. His 60 Second Updates have a current reach of over 750,000 readers. He and Mediation Resolves focus on eliminating formal employee complaints, avoiding internal relationship disputes, preventing grievance backlogs, and restarting stalled labor negotiations.