Retention Secret #3: Mediation
Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. If you’re successful at recruiting a diverse workforce, you can expect differences to eventually result in conflicts of various sorts. When problems between workers come up, knowing how to effectively solve them can save your company from expensive lawsuits. The RAND Institute for Civil Justice estimates that it costs a company an average of $150,00 to defend an employment discrimination lawsuit.
Retention through mediation; its cheaper and it works
But even cases that don’t rise to the level of discrimination are costly. Incivility is rampant in American workplaces today. As one researcher put it: “Among survey respondents, one target in eight left the job to escape a troublesome uncivil situation. With fully loaded costs of turnover estimated at 1.5 to 2.5 times the salary paid for the job, or $50,000 per exiting employee across all jobs and industries in the U.S., the bottom-line effects of incivility are far from trivial” (source).
Christine Porath (USC Marshall School of Business) and Christine Pearson (Thunderbird School of Global Management), co-authors of The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, estimate that the stress caused by incivility in the workplace could be costing American companies as much as $300 billion a year in lost productivity.
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Mediation is a vital tool that HR professionals can add to their repertoire to solve workplace conflicts before they escalate beyond repair. This is especially important when you need to do whatever it takes to heal an ongoing important relationship between key employees that’s in trouble. Effective conflict mediation involves five basic steps as follows:
- Identifying the Conflict’s Details. This may seem obvious, but you need as much information about the conflict as possible to accurately pinpoint what’s happening. Both parties to the conflict need to be able to fully air their “sides” of the story, and you need to engage in active listening to get it right, showing that you’re understanding what is being said and that you’re also being impartial in your role as mediator.
- Going Deeper. Part of what you need to do as a mediator is look beyond the specifics of the incident, looking at it from a bird’s eye view. Whatever the initial trigger may have been, unresolved conflicts fester over time and often cause an escalating pattern of conflict between the parties involved. What’s at the root of the conflict? The parties may show an ongoing tendency to make personal attacks on each other, but there’s something deeper driving those actions.
- Mapping Potential Solutions. Think of this as a mini brainstorming session where both parties identify all the ways they can think of that the conflict could be resolved or the situation improved. This is one way for the parties to begin setting aside their conflicts and actually cooperating on a solution. Your role as mediator is to listen and capture the various ideas, as well as preventing any finger-pointing that might creep into the process.
- What Can Both Parties Support? Now that you’ve got an array of potential solutions, you need to get the parties to start working together towards a final solution that they can both live with. There won’t always be perfect solutions to conflicts. Sometimes the best you can do is arrive at something that both parties can live with or tolerate. Remind them that the end goal is for everyone to cooperate in achieving the company’s mission and purpose.
- Final Agreement. The process must end with a clear understanding between both parties on the alternative selected, and a handshake to seal the deal. If you think it would help, you can even write up a kind of contract that lays out what actions each party needs to take and when.
When you think about the huge costs to workplaces that result from incivility and conflict, it should be a no-brainer that it’s high time to add the tool of effective mediation to your HR toolbox.
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