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.

Comments

  1. After experiencing unrelenting harassment from a supervisor, I entered into efforts with a third party mediator to try and address relationship issues. It did not work at all. Too much of the abuse is done in the one-to-one relationship which the mediator does not see. There are many types of bullying, some may be solved by a supervisor with an intent to make things work. Not in my situation however. My conclusion is that the manager in charge needs to not take sides, or avoid dealing with the situation. I have come to believe that if the manager says to a supervisor, make this situation work so no is experiencing harassment, the supervisor will do it. The other types of differences that can be solved can be more content related. When the issue is abuse, it has to stop, whether the supervisor agrees they are doing it or not. It doesn’t really take that much to get clear on what respectful behaviors look like-and to do it. The immaturity of abuse has got to stop.

  2. Sorry that you had to endure workplace abuse!
    I agree that mediation is at least questionable under these circumstances. The two sides are not equal, and the victim is usually the least powerful. And, there is no research that shows mediation is effective.
    Also, I would be concerned that the mediator will not be truly independent but an arm of the Human Resources Department, which represents management’s interests.
    As a starting point, an employer should have a clear and well publicized policy of zero tolerance for abuse, accompanied by management training, and, when all else fails. prompt sanctions.
    Thanks for sharing!
    – PGB

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on workplace bullying; Peter’s post is an interesting read. Like many others, I am not completely convinced mediation is an effective vehicle for resolving workplace bullying. In your experience, have you found that bullying is larger than two people? In other words, is workplace bullying supported by a whole organizational system rather than one person?

    I have shared your blog post, as well as your blog, on ADRhub.com. Please feel free to drop by and share your posts/thoughts on our site.

    There are a few active articles posted by our members on “bullying.” Jeff Thompson of EnjoyMediation.com shared his thoughts on workplace bullying at http://adrhub.com/profiles/blogs/bully-boss-or-just-a-tough. Additional articles include the use of Online Dispute Resolution to prevent/resolve Cyberbullying, and the link between bullying and suicide.

    What are your thoughts on leveraging the use of technology in workplace bullying? For example, the use of anonymous online incident reporting which flags, or maps, employers and is publicly available on a web platform. Or, do you think an approach would create a worse environment for those who are bullied?

    Thanks again!

  4. Workplace abuse is much bigger than two people. Workplace abuse is a failure of management and management is responsible for halting it.

    Also, my experience tells me that if an employee is seen to be bullied, the employee often becomes “radioactive” to other employees. This worsens the abuse . That’s the “mobbing” theory.

    I think technology could potentially help the situation greatly. However, there are issues. An employer would have to provide a reason for employees to trust a guarantee of anonymity. Could one employee file 100 complaints? Also, I would be concerned about using a web platform that is open for all to see. Any employee with a gripe that is not abuse-related could unfairly damage a supervisor’s reputation, which, in turn, weakens the case fr all true abuse victims. Etc.

    The irony is that it is usually not a secret who the bully is in the workplace, even though much of the bullying takes place behind closed doors. The problem is that no one does anything about it.

    I’ll definitely check out your blog. Thanks for stopping by! PGB

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