When two co-workers refuse to talk each other it can negatively impact a business, no matter what industry it’s in. If it’s in a medical setting and patient treatment is at stake, it has the potential to be disastrous. Workplace mediator Julia Menard recently shared her experience dealing with such a conflict, where she was brought in as an impartial third party to help two care-workers work through their differences.
“Luckily the company had a policy that called for outside mediation when internal protocols weren’t working,” Menard says.
In facilitating communication between the two aggrieved parties, first meeting each separately and then together, Menard was able to help them resolve the issue peaceably — and then help them work together to present their managers with suggestions to improve their working environment and avoid future misunderstandings between employees.
This was one of several real-life examples given at a recent Victoria Chamber of Commerce workshop, Improve Your Business with Mediation, presented by MediateBC, an organization that offers mediation information, services and programs for individuals, families and organizations. In her panel talk, Menard stressed the importance for a business to have official policies that require employees to at least speak to a mediator individually when involved in a workplace dispute. This could facilitate matters if the dispute has the potential to end up in court or investigated by WorkSafeBC, who recently implemented new policies and guidelines for employers to prevent bullying and harassment.
Conflict in the workplace can take many guises, from problems with interpersonal and team dynamics, as in the case above, to insurance disputes, invoice collection, service complaints, and disputes with investors, lenders, or landlords. According to Kari Boyle, executive director of Mediate BC, only 13 per cent of managers in a recent Canadian survey felt they were effective in dealing with these conflicts; which cost businesses a great deal in reduced productivity, time away from work, legal and support fees, and can even affect the company’s reputation.
Another panelist at the session, lawyer and mediator Michael Lomax, believes mediation can save businesses money in the long run.
“In 95 per cent of cases before the courts, the parties end up settling,” he says. “Why go through the legal costs if you can settle earlier in mediation.”
Even if a court case has already started, mediation can help clarify information and reduce issues, which can shorten and simplify the court process.
While mediation generally leads to quicker settlements and reduced monetary costs, it can also help maintain relationships, an important consideration when it comes to business.
“Conflict doesn’t go away if you ignore it,” Menard says. “Mediation creates a safe place and allows for open communication.”