Mediation to Halt Workplace Bullying?

There is a lack of research on whether mediation works in cases of workplace bullying.  Many experts, myself included, urge caution. Workplace bullying is not like workplace conflict. It is a form of abuse (usually by a supervisor)  that takes place over time, and causes the target to suffer potentially serious  injury to his or her mental and physical health. A level playing field does not exist in bullying situations, just as it does not exist in domestic violence scenarios (where mediation is disfavored). Mediation is premised on the theory that an objective, neutral third party can help two parties of equal standing achieve a fair and just solution.  Here are some excerpts from an article published on June 8, 2010 by the Chronicle of Higher Education at: http://chronicle.com/article/Workplace-Mediators-Seek-a/65815/

Workplace Mediators Seek a Role in Taming Faculty Bullies

By Peter Schmidt

College faculty members who are bullied or abused by coworkers often feel they must either suffer through it or quit. Soon, however, colleges may be pressed to give them a third option: requesting the intervention of a mediator or arbitrator to try to turn their workplace situation around.

What is unclear is whether such interventions will make life more tolerable for bullies’ victims or leave them feeling more beat up than they were before.

Colleges already frequently use various forms of third-party intervention, broadly known as alternative dispute resolution, to try to keep complaints of unlawful discrimination from turning into costly legal battles. Noting that such disputes often involve allegations of bullying or other forms for workplace abuse, two prominent organizations that provide alternative dispute resolution plan in the coming months to undertake a national campaign to urge colleges to use that same approach in handling complaints of mistreatment that do not necessarily violate any civil-rights laws.

The effort is being led by the American Arbitration Association, a nonprofit provider of alternative dispute resolution based in New York, and by the ADR Consortium, which consists of companies and individuals that offer such services. Also involved is the Institute of Human Resources and Industrial Relations at Loyola University Chicago, which plans to do research on the effectiveness of the approach.

In a paper scheduled for presentation Wednesday at the annual conference of the American Association of University Professors, Lamont E. Stallworth, a professor of human resources and employment relations at the Loyola institute and a founder of the ADR Consortium, and Myrna C. Adams, an organizational consultant who formerly served as Duke University’s vice president for institutional equity, argue that alternative dispute resolution offers an “ethical, professional, and cost-effective” way to deal with bullying and other forms of workplace incivility.

Mr. Stallworth and Ms. Adams acknowledge, however, that they cannot point to any research showing alternative dispute resolution to be an effective means of dealing with bullying. And many experts on bullying argue that what research actually shows is that mediation by some third party is an ineffective means of dealing with bullying, and may even leave the victims worse off.

“There is great consensus about the futility of [alternative dispute resolution] to work with bullying,” Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, said in an e-mail message.

In a September 2009 article in Consulting Psychology Journal, Mr. Namie and Ruth Namie, his wife and partner in running the Workplace Bullying Institute, wrote, “Traditional conflict mediation ignores the targeted worker’s need for justice and acknowledgment of the harm” and “focuses only on current and future circumstances, ignoring the past.”

“If there is a power imbalance between target and bully, as there often is, mediation can harm the target,” they said.

…  In a paper scheduled to be presented on Thursday, three researchers from Wilkes University, in Pennsylvania, will discuss the results of a survey that asked faculty members in economics and business about bullying behavior.  .. The most common type of bullying behavior faculty members engage in, the Wilkes researchers found, is discounting another person’s accomplishments, followed by turning other people against their victim, or subjecting their victim to public criticism or constant scrutiny.

… A key element of the campaign planned by the American Arbitration Association and the ADR Consortium is persuading colleges to adopt anti-bullying policies and codes of civility. That way, although alternative dispute resolution would not be used unless both sides agreed to it, the alleged perpetrator would have an incentive to enter into the resolution process, to avoid facing disciplinary action.

Christine L. Newhall, senior vice president of the American Arbitration Association, said in an interview on Tuesday that many types of dispute resolution could be used in such situations, including fact-finding, binding or nonbinding arbitration, or mediation in which a facilitator tries to bring together both sides. She is confident that well-trained providers of such services can resolve many bullying-related conflicts in academe, just as they settle many other workplace disputes.

“Sometimes the bully does not even know they are a bully,” Ms. Newhall said.

Mr. Stallworth is playing a central role in the effort as both a faculty member at the Loyola institute and program director of the ADR Consortium, which he established in 1995. A veteran user of alternative dispute resolution to settle complaints of illegal discrimination, he says he became interested in research on workplace bullying several years ago and has been considering how to apply the expertise of those like him to such conflicts.

What Makes a Good Manager?

Leadership is not about hammering an employee into the ground in a futile quest for blind subservience.  The following observations are made by Harvard Business School Professor Linda Hill, author of an influential 2007 article in Harvard Business called “Becoming the Boss”:

TO BE OR NOT TO BE … A GOOD MANAGER?

  • Give up on the myth of authority and recognize the need to negotiate your way through a web of management and co-worker interdependencies or face frustration and failure.
  • Good managers must earn their subordinates’ respect and trust in order to exercise significant authority. They need to demonstrate to subordinates their own character, their competence, and their ability to get things done before those subordinates are likely to follow their lead.
  • New managers, insecure in their roles, often seek absolute compliance to orders from their subordinates. But what they learn over time is that “compliance” is not the same as “commitment.”  The challenge for managers is to nurture a strong sense of common commitment to shared goals – rather than one of blind allegiance to the managers’ dictates.
  • Instead of focusing on one-on-one relationships, managers must shape a team culture. Focus not on friendship but on building a team culture. In that way, Ms. Hill says, “a leader can unleash the problem-solving prowess of the diverse talents that make up the team.”
  • Keeping an operation running smoothly is a difficult task, and can absorb all of a new manager’s time and energy. But if that’s all the manager does,  he or she is making a big mistake. “New managers also need to realize they are responsible for recommending and initiating changes that will enhance their groups’ performance,” she writes. “Often – and it comes as a surprise to most – this means challenging organizational processes or structures that exist above and beyond their area of formal authority. Only when they understand this part of the job will they begin to address seriously their leadership responsibilities.”

Exec’s Advice for Dealing with Bully Boss

This is part of a larger interview dated  July 17, 2010 on the New York Times web site with Dawn Lepore, chairwoman and chief executive of Drugstore.com and director of eBay and The New York Times Company. In this excerpt she discusses her experience working for a bully boss.

Q. Any bosses you had who were big influences?

A. I had a very bad boss early in my career. She was older than I was. She’d started in the financial services industry and she’d had a very hard time, so I think that probably shaped her as a leader. She was very smart but had terrible communication skills. She did not make people feel valued or comfortable or like they were supported at all. And I remember what that felt like. And I thought, I’m never going to do that to people.

Q. How long did you work for her?

A. Many years. I almost left twice.

Q. What’s your advice to people stuck working for a bad boss?

A. Life is about trade-offs. And you have to be conscious of the trade-off you’re making. I felt there were enough other positives in the environment and enough opportunity that I stuck it out. But, you know, I was unhappy. I had to kind of just take a deep breath and say, O.K., I know this is going to end and I’m willing to put up with this.

But you can’t be a victim. If you let yourself become a victim, that’s the kiss of death. So you’ve got to feel, O.K., I am choosing to do this, and when I decide I can no longer do it, then I will take action. So I will not let myself be so belittled that I think I can’t do anything. If it starts undermining your confidence, then you have to leave, because then that seeps into everything you do.

Massachusetts School Anti-Bullying Law

In April  2010 the Massachusetts’ state legislature unanimously passed what is called the toughest anti-bullying law in the nation with respect to schools,  Title 12, Chapter 71, Section 370. The law was precipitated by two cases of  Massachusetts’ youths committing suicide after allegedly being bullied. The legislation requires school employees to report and principals to investigate all instances of bullying. It should be noted that the Massachusetts’ law requires “repeated” incidents of bullying, which is not required in all bullying laws (ex. Quebec, Australia).  PGB

DEFINITION OF BULLYING  IN MASSACHUSETTS  SCHOOL ANTI-BULLYING LAW

“Bullying”, the repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a victim that:

(i)  causes physical or emotional harm to the victim or damage to the victim’s property;

(ii) places the victim in reasonable fear of harm to himself or of damage to his property;

(iii) creates a hostile environment at school for the victim;

(iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at school; or

(v) materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a  school. For the purposes of this section, bullying shall include cyberbullying.