Mediation as a Human Resource Tool
I happened across an article recently entitled, How to Tackle Employee Disputes at Small Business, from Great Britain’s Telegraph. The writer, Anna Isaac, argues that “[u]gly conversations and lost working days can be avoided by a swift and fair approach to workplace conflict.” She suggests that a simple and effective grievance procedure can prevent workplace disputes from getting out of hand.
She also urges early resort to mediation to preserve workplace relationships.
As a long-time representative of employees, her words ring true with me, and make a broader point about the role of lawyers in solving disputes, generally, and employment disputes, in particular.
Many members of our profession think in narrow terms about such problems and, without a second though, encourage their clients to stand firmly on their legal rights without taking broader look at the situation.
Yes, an employer may have right to immediately terminate an employee perceived as troublesome. Surely there are times for a swift and firm response.
Some employee lawyers do just the opposite: Got a problem with the boss? Sue the employer.
Neither approach is necessarily the best business or human relations answer to the problem. Perhaps there is an underlying problem that the employer would wish to address if it were really understood. Perhaps the “troublesome” employee is having a short-term problem that can be addressed and easily resolved. Perhaps the employee is valuable enough that so that the cost and disruption of recruiting and training a new employee outweighs the expense of working things through.
Perhaps the employee needs to learn to have more realistic expectations of the employer.
Choose the Right Tool
The broader message for lawyers is simple. Don’t be like a carpenter, who when presented with any problem, will simply hit it with a hammer!
We are more valuable to our clients if we take a broad and long view of problems and solutions.