Workplace Mediation -- It's Not Enough Sometimes

"When you come in and mediate a series of issues for us I just don't think it is enough. It isn't really the full solution." And this executive is right. While bringing a resolution to a specific employee situation is progress (and satisfying) it often is just a temporary fix. Why? Systemic issues typically exist that will lead to hauntingly familiar complaints in the future.

Workplace mediation, depending upon when it is sought out, tends to be reactive. A remarkable number of the workplace issues I have been involved with are one to three years old. Mediations too often come after the fact, after the employee complaint has languished, after all other attempts at resolution have been exhausted, and often after bad feelings have been aroused to the point of exasperation. As a way to avoid this I encourage clients to place mediation at the front of the problem resolution process, not at the end. And that includes using mediation in formal union grievance procedures.

However, even the early placement of mediation is not a full service approach. Mediation must include working with organizations to identify root causes to repetitive issues. This is appropriate post-mediation work and cost efficient in the long run -- and brings all of the obvious leadership advantages of reduced employee concerns. The mediator is an excellent person to lead the process review conversation, to assist with the discovery of problem origins, and to encourage improvement.

Leaving mediation with a resolved problem is great. It is progress. But sometimes it is just not enough.


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.