Professor Lourie Terblanche and Brian Goliath, members of Workplace Enrichment Consultants (WEC) spoke about this topic at the EAPA-SA Eduweek 2019.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a voluntary, multi-faceted, and confidential process in which a mutually-selected, impartial mediator helps people in the resolution of their issues to reach an outcome of their own making. This may well include the resolution of issues and the preservation of vital relationships. Among all possible methods of interpersonal intervention, mediation has the broadest application and the greatest potential for resolving disputes and reconciling conflicts between two parties.
“Among all possible methods of interpersonal intervention, mediation has the broadest application.”
Mediation in an EAP context
Practically speaking, the Employment Assistance Practitioner has two clients:
- Individual employees who are experiencing personal issues which may affect their social functioning and productivity.
- Corporate clients who are experiencing employees with personal issues that may affect their service offering and profits.
Common to these two client-groups is the fact that it is people (employees) are involved in projects and processes, and when people are involved differences in opinion will surface and become a reality. These differences in opinion may result in conflict, which is likely to become counter-productive if not dealt with quickly and constructively. When it comes to dealing with such differences, the options are twofold:
- Litigation: We are living in a society where everybody sees the court as the only solution to a problem.
- Mediation: Mediation – or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) – should be acknowledged for its potential benefits and added value, as a constructive alternative to litigation.
Mediation as a working process
The mediator’s role is to guide the parties toward their own resolution. Through joint sessions, and meeting with each party separately, the mediator helps both sides define their issues clearly, understand the other person’s position, and moves them closer to resolution. Facets of the process include:
- Introduction and defining the role of the mediator
It is important to start with defining the role of the mediator as being an impartial facilitator, not the presiding officer of the process, with a focus on the interests of the parties concerned and where no opinion is right or wrong –along with an explanation of the confidentiality inherent in the mediation process.
- Opening statements
Each side is asked to present their perspective on how the dispute arose, to identify different role-players and be open and honest about the interests and values involved. These ‘opening statements’ serve to provide the mediator with information (both substantive and psychological); they allow the party making the statement an opportunity to speak without interruption, and ensure that the other party listens and hears their opponent’s side of the story. This is the point at which the parties involved agree to reach an agreement.
- Setting the agenda
After opening statements, the mediator is equipped to set out an overview of how the process will unfold, including the ground rules for the discussion. Many mediators like to take some time after hearing opening statements to help the parties draw up an agenda to structure the remainder of their discussions.
6. Exploring and finding common ground
Once an agenda structure is agreed, the parties will be invited to pick an agenda item and begin to discuss this more comprehensively with the aim of recognising differences, seeking common ground, and bringing different options to the table. All options should be noted –and it is important to obtain input from all parties regarding the different options in a ‘brainstorming session’, where the mediator facilitates the process in a balanced and impartial manner in investigating the pros and cons of each option, rather than it being a debate between opposite sides.
7. Separate/side meetings
Sometimes option generation is started in separate side-meetings, so that each party feels comfortable that their ideas will not be regarded as commitments, but rather as the beginning of a constructive discussion on settlement options. It is important that the mediator meet with each part equally in terms of time and obtains permission to share the information.
8. Closure and agreements
Once the mediator has facilitated the discussion of different options brought to the table, hopefully the outline of an agreement will begin to emerge. The facilitator serves to assist the parties in concluding the process by addressing any last-minute difficulties and by keeping them focused on the task in a constructive fashion, summarising to strengthen positives. The final agreement will then be written up, either by the mediator or the parties themselves, and signed by all concerned.
Considering that EAP clinical services include critical incident management, crisis intervention, case assessment, referral, short-term intervention, case monitoring and evaluation, as well as aftercare and reintegration, the question arises whether the EAP should be involved in matters which may require mediation? To answer this question it is important to be cognisant of the number of employees who are regularly confronted with any one or more of the following issues:
- Maintenance issues
- Care of minor children (custody of children)
- Debt issues
- Community disputes
- Supervisory issues, which may escalate into disciplinary proceedings if not mediated.
The answer is a resounding “Yes”. All of the abovementioned matters, and many more, can be effectively dealt with through mediation with a more productive outcome than would be found through litigation.
Mediation in a non-clinical services context
The EAP’s non-clinical services include organisational consultation, EAP management and supervisory training, and marketing. It makes sense that mediation should be added as another category of non-clinical services – particularly because these non-clinical services as well as proactive services are dependent on:
- effective networking and communication;
- sufficient information shared amongst different role-players; and
- the fact that different role-players may challenge the solutions identified to remedy certain problems – especially those in which employees find themselves at risk.
“It is clear that mediation has a role to play in any number of non-clinical EAP endeavours. ”
It is clear that mediation has a role to play in any number of non-clinical EAP endeavours where different role-players may have different opinions, including:
- Contracting: as a tool to be applied during the contracting process
- Programme design: in the development of service delivery models and costing models
- Management and administration: in the upholding of ethical standards or dealing with the infringement of confidentiality and disclosure of information
- Organisational consultation: to mediate between management and an affected workforce to prevent labour unrest due to EAP related challenges
- EAP management and supervisory training: when necessary during motivation and constructive confrontation
- Internal stakeholder management: when implementing internal organisational activities to build resilience within the work force;
- External stakeholder management: when interacting with external community organisations and resources when negotiating agreements or contracts;
- Marketing: to ensure buy-in from external stake-holders.
In conclusion, the benefits to be gained by EAPs using mediation as a tool to resolve employee and organisational issues include matters to be resolved more speedily and with less negative impact on the psycho-social functioning and productivity of the affected employee or organisation. In comparing mediation with litigation it is evident that mediation:
- costs less;
- is less time consuming;
- is less stressful;
- provides a neutral perspective;
- parties remain in control over decisions;
- is an easier process.
- That experienced corporate and family mediators are available; and
- most cases settle during mediation.
Workplace Enrichment Consultants (WEC)
Professor Lourie Terblanche
Professor Lourie Terblanche is Managing Member and Chairperson of Workplace Enrichment Consultants (WEC). Professor Terblanche holds a Master’s degree in Mental Health from UNISA and a doctoral degree in Social Work from the University of Free State on EAPs in South Africa. He was responsible for the introduction of the short course on Employee Assistance Programmes at University of Pretoria in 1995, with the cooperation of Dr André van Jaarsveld. Almost 2000 delegates have been trained in this course, which is still running and offered by Enterprises University of Pretoria in partnership with Life Employee Health Solutions (previously Careways), part of Life Health Care Group. In 2011, he was instrumental in introducing Enterprises University of Pretoria’s Advanced Short course in Employee Assistance Programmes, offered in partnership with ICAS.
Mr Brian Goliath
Brian Goliath is a member of Workplace Enrichment Consultants. He has a Master’s degree in Social Work from UNISA, with a dissertation entitled The Supportive Function of Supervision. Since 2009, Brian has been in private practice as a social worker; and between May 2012 and May 2019, Brian held the position of Social Work Supervisor and Assistant Manager at the Western Cape Provincial Government Department of Social Development, where he led the strategic and operational management of services.
Workplace Enrichment Consultants is registered with EAPA-SA as a service provider member and renders services to the EAP fraternity, including research, training and consultation.