Bullying and harassment is a rapidly rising issue in the workplace. According to a 2016 study, about 47% of employees are bullied or harassed at some point during their career. Nearly one out of every two people experience bullying, whether through verbal slurs, nonverbal gestures, physical violence, or some other method. And while every case is unique, all cases should be handled with care and efficiency, or the company may lose valuable employees and even wind up in legal trouble.

Bullying and harassment can be a very sensitive issue. If not handled properly, the situation can become uncomfortable for the victim and for anyone who witnessed it. Unfortunately, bullying and harassment in the workplace is more complicated than the bullying that takes place on a school playground. It is not just about separating the bully and the victim, but about creating a cohesive environment where employees have a place they can excel in and use their talents and skills to make valuable contributions to the organization.

Bullying vs. Harassment and How Mediation Helps with Both

While bullying and harassment seem to be interchangeable terms, there is a distinction between the two, which significantly changes how they are dealt with in the workplace. Bullying is a form of aggression towards another person, creating a power imbalance. In the workplace, this could be anything from swearing or shouting at another coworker to resorting to physical violence.

Harassment can look the same as bullying, but has intent directed toward a person because of a certain characteristic they might have. This could mean that a coworker is being harassed because of their sex, gender, race, color, religion, disability, etc.

Mediators have the experience and background in dealing with many different types of disputes and conflicts, including those related to bullying and harassment. Sometimes, bullies are unaware that they are causing harm to their coworkers and would benefit from sessions with a mediator where they speak their mind about the other person and explain their actions. At the same time, the victim of the bullying can also speak to a mediator in a different room and express their feelings as well. By talking it out in a confidential setting, they may be able to see and understand their differences and begin to work cooperatively.

How Mediation Can Help Prevent Bullying and Harassment

Bullying does not have to be rampant in the workplace for mediators to step in. Mediation can help open the lines of communication among coworkers and help to alleviate tensions before the fireworks really start to fly. This can make your organization a more peaceful and enjoyable place to work.

The mediation process is guided by a neutral, third-party mediator who works closely with parties to bring them together toward a mutually agreeable resolution. The process is very flexible, and participants are able to offer ample input into whatever settlement is reached. In fact, the mediator has no power to impose anything on anyone, so it is up to participants to come to an agreement voluntarily.

There are several advantages to using mediation for resolving conflicts related to bullying and harassment. These include:

  • Time and Cost Savings: Legal battles are expensive and time-consuming. It is always in the best interests of everyone involved to avoid litigation if at all possible, and mediation provides a viable and cost-efficient alternative.
  • Confidential Process: Many employees are afraid to express their feelings in the workplace for fear of reprisal. With mediation, you work with a neutral mediator from outside the organization in a confidential process that allows participants to freely air their grievances. They are able to do this in a cooperative environment that is conducive to amicable resolutions.
  • Higher Rates of Compliance: Because participants control the outcome of the process and whatever agreement is reached, they feel more empowered and they are more likely to take ownership of it. This greatly increases the chances that parties will live up to whatever they commit to.