How to Mediate Arguments between Employer and Employee

Three Methods:Mediating Between a Group of Employees and an EmployerAvoiding Employee Grievances with EmployersAddressing an Employer’s Grievance with an Employee

Since formal mediation is a legal process carried out by licensed professionals, the best strategies to mediate employer-employee conflict lie in informal mediation tools and avoiding conflict in the first place. Nonetheless, the relationship between employers and employees is inherently conflicted. An employer wants to keep the surplus resulting from an unequal (but not necessarily unfair) distribution of profits. The employees want to maximize their share of profits in the form of wages and salaries. Although it might seem like the employer has all the power in the employer-employee relationship, both sides have leverage in reality, because the employer is reliant upon the employees’ labor to generate profits. This mutual leverage can make employer-employee conflict particularly difficult to manage.

Method 1
Mediating Between a Group of Employees and an Employer

  1. 1
    Deal with one representative. If you’re trying to resolve a dispute between several employees and yourself or acting as a mediator between the two groups, have each party designate one representative as a negotiator. Deal only with those people. [1]
    • This strategy helps in two ways. One, you relieve yourself of the responsibility of selling two opposing groups of people one a compromise plan. Two, you are dealing with people each side has already indicated they trust, increasing the likelihood that the opposing groups will ratify the decisions made by the negotiators.
  2. 2
    Start with the small issues. A lot of negotiators will mistakenly assume they should tackle the big issues first, and the small ones will follow. In fact, that’s usually the worst strategy. The big issues are the most divisive, the most contentious. Agreement on smaller issues lays a foundation for reaching agreement on bigger issues.[2]
    • Starting negotiations on the biggest issues is akin to trying to knocking down a wall by starting in the middle. While the payoff might be impressive if successful, it’s much more difficult to do than starting around the edges.
  3. 3
    Begin negotiations without preconditions. Negotiating without preconditions does not mean you compromise on any issue the employees wish to compromise on. It only means you don’t exclude any particular subject from discussion before negotiations have begun. Doing so only serves to add barriers around an already contentious issue.
  4. 4
    Identify the interests behind the requests. Interest based bargaining is a negotiation technique that attempts to identify what interest behind a request in order to achieve a satisfying compromise for everyone. [3]
    • Perhaps the employer feels it’s impossible to avoid layoffs and the employees want no layoffs. The interests behind these positions are easy to identify. The employer wants to save money and the employees want to save jobs. So a possible solution might be to cut hours or salaries across the board so that no one has to lose their job.[4]

Method 2
Avoiding Employee Grievances with Employers

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    Pay good wages. The employment relationship starts with a paycheck, and in the end, paying good wages is still the best way to keep employees happy. An employee who is paid more than the market rate is a happy employee—but more than that, they’re an employee who wants to do whatever they can to stay at your firm. They have something in their employment relationship with you that’s difficult to find elsewhere. [5]
    • Good wages aren’t the same thing as “competitive wages.” An employer paying competitive wages is paying as close to the median wage as is possible, while an employer paying good wages is paying at the level they need to pay to keep the best employees.
    • An underpaid employee is an employee who will resent their employer sooner or later. Resentful employees are the kinds of employees most likely to come into legal or personal conflict with their employers.
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    Offer strong benefits packages. What counts as employer sponsored benefits in the US (paid time off, health and retirement insurance) are provided for or mandated by the government in almost every other country. The implication being, what is considered a “benefit” in the US is considered a right in most other areas of the world. By offering a benefits package that not only covers the basics like health and retirement, but goes above and beyond, an employer can attract and retain the most qualified employees.[6]
    • Think about offering perks like employee development programs (such as continuing education and credentialing), company stocks as compensation, and phased retirement programs. These signal to your employees that you’re as committed to them as you expect them to be to you.
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    Issue predictable schedules. There are few things that wreak more havoc in an individual’s private life than unpredictable work schedules. It is one of the strongest signals an employer can send that an employee's time is unimportant. Very few people live to work—most are working to live. When last-minute scheduling changes consistently interrupt important personal events, it kills morale.[7]
    • Workplaces with low morale are breeding grounds for conflict between employers and employees and between employees themselves. And it’s a rational reaction—if an employer doesn’t value an employee’s time, they don’t value the employee. And an employee who isn’t valued by their employer will only value the job as long as they can’t find one that pays better.
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    Protect your employees from predatory behavior from other employees. Behaviors like sexual and racial discrimination and harassment not only undermine the human dignity of their targets, but they vastly increase the likelihood of conflict between employers and employees (in the form of legal action).[8]
    • No one deserves to be a target of ridicule because of how they were born. Employee complaints of harassment or discrimination must be seriously investigated and swiftly addressed. Failure to do anything less can be perceived as an endorsement of the discriminatory behavior.
    • These types of complaints are often difficult to verify. However, most employment arrangements in the US are at-will, meaning that the employer can fire the employee for any reason. There’s no obligation to retain an employee suspected of harassment just because it can’t be proven they committed an offense on a specific time and day. Therefore, it behooves an employer to look beyond the immediate circumstances of the complaint and examine the totality of the suspected employee’s behavior. Check social media posts, company emails, and the experiences of others to get a true feel for the employee’s attitudes.
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    Show your appreciation. Finally, an employer can avoid conflict with employees by showing their appreciation for their employees. Recognize and reward team and individual performance. While a little recognition won’t compensate for low pay or poor benefits, it shows the employer is willing to go the extra mile.
    • You can show appreciation in a variety of ways. Throw holiday parties. Hold quarterly prize-drawings. Give birthday presents. Use your imagination.

Method 3
Addressing an Employer’s Grievance with an Employee

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    Listen to the employee. If you’re an employer yourself, this might seem like counterintuitive advice. You’re the boss. You’ve got the problem with the employee. Shouldn’t they listen to you? They probably should. But as an employer, no one’s disputing your ability to hire and fire your staff—the idea is to avoid and resolve conflict so it doesn’t become a hiring and firing situation.[9]
    • An unhappy employee usually has a reason to be unhappy. While it isn’t always a good reason, there’s usually a reason. It might not have anything to do with you. It might not even be work related. But there’s little chance for you to solve the problem at all if you don’t know what it is.
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    Give specific, concrete suggestions about how they can change their behavior. It isn’t enough for an employee to know that you’re dissatisfied in some general way. They need to know specifically what to do to make you a happier boss.[10]
    • For example, don’t say: “We’re having trouble with your attitude.”
    • Instead, try: “I noticed you having some trouble with that customer yesterday. She said she thought you were rude, and I think I know why. I know you’re not a rude person. In the future, always use ‘m’am’ and ‘sir’ when you’re talking to anyone over forty. It might not mean much to you, but it goes a long way with them.”
  3. 3
    Don’t be arbitrary. As much for your sake as the employee’s sake, you need to apply the same rules consistently across the workplace. If you tell an employee one thing, but then they see you permit the same behavior from others, it sends a signal that your request really isn’t something you prioritize. [11]
    • Imagine how you might feel if you were one of your employees, you were reprimanded by your boss, then saw your boss permit the exact same behavior from someone else. You’d probably resent the person who reprimanded you.
  4. 4
    Keep a record. While you need to record any disciplinary action you take against an employee, it’s just as important to record what was said as it is to record that something was said. Not only does it help you understand what the employee has failed or succeeded in addressing, it also helps you know what you may have failed to explain.[12]

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Categories: Interacting with Employees | Managing Arguments