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  • Giles Woolfson

Mediation when bullied at work?

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Being bullied massively impacts on a person’s life, and not only at work but also their home life. Bullying at work can take many forms, from leaving endless post-it notes on a desk with unreasonable demands, to repeatedly undermining a colleague in team meetings, to shouting and swearing and even reducing a colleague to tears. It happens, and it happens frequently.

There is a saying that “one person’s bullying is another person’s tough management”. But where is that line drawn? Maybe post-it notes are left because the manager isn’t in the office and the “unreasonable demands” fall squarely in the person’s job description? Maybe the alleged undermining comments are nothing more than passing remarks, which in actual fact the manager frequently uses for all team members? Maybe the shouting and swearing happened on a bad day, and the manager is in fact sorry for that but doesn’t quite know how to say that? Maybe…but maybe not….

There will be cases where conduct is so bad, and just simply wrong, that mediation will not be appropriate and a grievance process, and even disciplinary process, is the appropriate way to go. However, allegations of bullying often involve different perceptions of the same event. I have seen many cases where a person who comes forward as a victim of bullying raises a grievance only to be told by management “there’s not enough evidence to uphold the allegation”. Where does that leave that person, and indeed the person against whom the allegations were made? This is where mediation can help. It allows the two people to speak directly to each other, in a safe and controlled environment, and hear first-hand what the other has to say. In this kind of environment, it wouldn’t be surprising if the alleged bully actually makes concessions which they would never have made if the matter had been taken through a more formal route.

The process of mediation can be used to change behaviour. It can be used to explain behaviour. It can reinvigorate relationships which have turned sour for reasons that people can’t actually explain. One minute they were getting on fine, and then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, one of them turns into a “bully”. There will of course be a reason for that change, and mediation gives those involved probably the best chance they have of uncovering that reason. They have the chance to talk to each other. They still have the option of the adversarial process (grievance or maybe employment tribunal), but one thing is certain – that kind of process will not involve the direct face to face contact which could be so crucial in resolving the issue and restoring the relationship.

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