Some workplace disputes are difficult to resolve. For example, if a dispute concerning a disciplinary issue occurs between an employee and a supervisor, the organization might not have a clear-cut method for settling it. In this case, the organization might use mediation to help find a workable compromise, but this approach has potential disadvantages.
In the simplest form of mediation, a mediator familiarizes herself with the details of the dispute and then offers a compromise to both parties. If both parties find the terms agreeable, they resolve the dispute. If one party doesn’t, they haven't settled the dispute -- but no one's worse off. In other words, third-party mediation might not work, but it probably won’t make a situation worse.
Mediation can be costly, which is a major disadvantage. Hiring an outside consultant, for example, might be expensive. In some cases, the cost is worthwhile, especially if the organization needs someone with high-level knowledge and experience to deal with a thorny technical or legal issue. But for some organizations, hiring a mediator is just too expensive. An alternative is to use a hybrid model: hire external mediators to teach staff how to handle in-house mediation, according to the book “The Handbook of Employment Relations: Law and Practice,” by Brian Towers. The initial cost will be high, but the long-term savings derived from having an effective in-house mediation staff could save money in the long run.
Potential for Bias
If a company decides to use an in-house mediator, it runs the risk that the mediator won’t seem credible to either the employee or the person representing the organization. For example, if the mediator has a long-standing relationship with one of the parties, the other party might not believe the mediator's impartial. Similarly, if the mediator stands to benefit from a particular outcome, any action she takes might seem biased.
If a common cause of disputes is a poorly defined or implemented policy, hiring professionals to write a more effective policy is more efficient than repeatedly spending money on mediation. For example, if the dispute concerns whether an employee may refuse a supervisor's request to work overtime, hiring a lawyer and human resources professional to draft a clear and enforceable policy might prevent future misunderstandings and disputes, forestalling any need for mediation. Another idea is to have professionals draft a method for handling any kind of employee disciplinary issue. In other words, having an established, step-by-step policy for dispute resolution might be cheaper and more efficient than hiring mediators.
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images