Is mediation the answer to workplace bullying?

by Miklos Bolza13 Sep 2016
While workplace bullying will usually warrant some sort of investigation, there may be other, more effective options for HR, said Jean-Marcel Malliaté, founder & co-director of InterMEDIATE Dispute Management.
In a recent interview with HC, he recounted an occasion involving a heated argument between two work colleagues that happened to occur by a water cooler.
“The HR manager wanted to run an investigation and had already assigned the HR people to do that. What they were going to do was interview 13 people to find out who started it, what had happened and most likely issue a letter of warning to the offender.”
Instead, Malliaté suggested co-mediation – bringing in a male and a female mediator to calm down the situation.
“Because these people had known each other for 14 years, our understanding of things like that is that it’s a bit more of a volcano. It usually is something that happened a while ago but this is just where it exploded.”
During the mediation, it transpired the argument began two weeks prior involving the partners of those involved.
“They were able to talk about it at length confidentially and make some resolutions to leave their partners out of their social relationship for six months, focus on their work, and get back to the good working relationship that they had.”
They also apologised and committed to having the agreement reviewed by the manager, Malliaté said.
The whole process took three or four hours “as opposed to what HR wanted to do which was running a typical process which would have taken one or two months,” he added.
“It would have taken people offside and, at the end of it, they would have gone back to work and still would have only been dealing with the argument that happened at the water cooler.”
Malliaté ended the interview, telling HC about a more serious incident in which a psychiatrist he knew had shot another psychiatrist after “issues, conflict, differences, attacks and bullying tactics that went on for at least 15 years.”
“It’s typical of some organisations that just turn a blind eye. Rather than getting people in who can resolve conflict, they say that nothing is wrong. We’re fine.”
Related stories:
Do you have a duty of care to alleged bullies?
Angry glares can constitute bullying: FWC
Can a management meeting amount to 'bullying'?


  • by Jennyt 14/09/2016 12:57:35 PM

    Mediation definitely is a way to resolve work place conflicts. But workplace 'conflict' is Not an equivalent of harassment. It's repeated, vexatiouse actions and abuse of power in order to control (power can be positional, physical or mental etc.).

    There might be some overlap between conflicts and harassment. 'Conflict' itself is not illegal but harassment often is. In this case mediation will not resolve the root cause of harassment unless HR is willing to take warranted disciplines.

  • by Linda 17/09/2016 4:06:45 PM

    An argument between two coworkers is not bullying. Mediation might well be suitable as a way of resolving a long standing argument, but not for bullying, especially when a power imbalance exists or where the alleged bullying behavior has been investigated and the behavior was found to be bullying, and in contravention of the workplace policies on bullying. In those cases, disciplinary action, appropriate to the circumstances, should be considered.

  • by Viola Tam 24/09/2016 6:19:37 PM

    Great article to highlight the importance of mediation in preventing more serious consequences!

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