MEDIATION – WHY IT FAILS
Upon returning to work after a lengthy illness, I was the target of mobbing by a new supervisor and a malicious coworker. I lasted two months, during which time I was sworn at (F-word), lied to, demoted in responsibility, and humiliated almost daily by my supervisor. He always made sure my coworker was in attendance. On the verge of an emotional breakdown, I went on medical leave.
I immediately informed Human Resources about the abusive workplace situation. Almost two months elapsed before HR suggested mediation, or “facilitated discussions”, as a possible means of resolving the situation. I accepted. Nothing else had been offered by HR. Following an incessant series of delays by HR, I finally had my first session with the mediator almost seven months after going on leave. I was happy and relieved that progress was being made, since the long wait was taking a further toll on my emotional and physical well-being.
The first session was quite encouraging. I found the mediator easy to talk with, and genuinely interested in what I had to say. I told most of my story, and we agreed that a second one-on-one meeting was warranted. I now had just a little bit of hope.
Our second session was vastly different from the first. The mediator had already met with the other two parties a second time, and was no longer interested in hearing the rest of my story. I got the impression that she knew the mediation effort was headed towards failure, and she was frustrated, irritated, and not sure how to proceed. This worried me. Shouldn’t my employer be contracting people who know how to efficiently handle unpredictable, complicated cases? In the end, she suggested meeting with my coworker and me, and I agreed. The mediator intended to meet with my coworker one-on-one the next day, and would phone me regarding the outcome. “You will be the first to know”, she said. But there was no phone call.
When I emailed her a couple of days later, she simply told me I would need to obtain her report from Human Resources. When I asked her why she had not followed through on the phone call, her reply was “My role was to work towards a facilitated conversation which you agreed is not going to work. The next steps will not be within my area of support. I feel we did our best but it will now have to take a different approach.” I had been concerned before, feeling excluded and uninformed, and this was certainly heightened by her inconsistency.
As an aside, the mediators statement “…which you agreed is not going to work.” is not true. I had agreed to the next meeting. This mediator used my vulnerable situation to fill her need to keep appearances. Either my coworker refused to participate, or the facilitator decided on her own that there was no point in proceeding. I am not permitted to know which is accurate. This needs to be a transparent process.
Human Resources is refusing to share anything with me except “The facilitator has recommended not continuing with the facilitated process as reconciliation of the professional relationship was not deemed a common goal. As such, the facilitator did not see added value in proceeding with next steps in the facilitated discussion.” Who keeps the facilitator accountable?
This turned out to be an emotionally-draining exercise in frustration.
SUMMARY / OBSERVATIONS
As a victim of bullying, and having experienced mediation first-hand, I would strongly discourage other bullying victims from participating in this process. In my opinion, mediation has its place in workplace disagreements where two or more parties are at varying degrees of fault. In these situations, each party can benefit from attitude/behavior modification, and eventually reach an acceptable and functional middle ground in the working relationship.
In most bullying situations, the victim has done nothing wrong, and does not need to modify his/her behavior. Those in the wrong, the bullies, will lie and collude in order to protect themselves. There is no reason for them to tell the truth, and it’s not the mediator’s job to distinguish fact from fiction. I say “most” because I am aware of those who interchange between the role of a bully and the role of a target. But a good investigator would catch that.
The mediation process can also cause further harm to a victim of bullying. In my case, having waited seven months with nothing else offered, the prospect of mediated discussions was the light at the end of the tunnel….my only hope. When mediation failed almost immediately, I experienced a huge sense of disappointment and loss. This can be especially damaging to victims of bullying, who have already lost so much. Another factor that works against the victim is that he/she is not privy to anything the bullies say during their conversations with the mediator. I found this to be very one-sided. The other parties were certainly aware that abusive behavior on their part was the reason they were asked to attend mediation sessions. They were given the opportunity to tell their side of the story. Conversely, I was not permitted to know anything about their responses, or if they made any allegations about me. They had the power, I did not. How can mediation possibly succeed when one party is not permitted to know what the other parties are saying?
Lastly, there is the matter of the competence and integrity of the mediator. My mediator has impressive credentials and glowing reviews on the company’s website. But sometimes a few words speak volumes, and actions do speak louder than words. Workplace bullying is complex, and needs a different set of skills.
When a victim speaks with a mediator, he/she trusts the mediator to treat them with respect, and stay true to their word. For me, there were two defining incidents. One came after I described, in detail, several instances of classic, humiliating bullying behavior by my supervisor. The mediator replied, somewhat hesitantly, that there was no clear definition of bullying. Since I had already consulted with ABRC, I knew this was not true, and that a very clear definition of bullying is indeed available. The mediator’s excuse was old. It seemed to me she had not done her homework, or attended any training on bullying. Why does my employer repeatedly contract her? I suspect it’s because her outcomes always lean in favor of the employer. Operation cover up.
She made me feel disregarded, as if I was overreacting; she made me question my own judgement, just like a bully. The second incident, or series of incidents, was the way I was treated after our last meeting. The mediator did not follow up with a phone call, as she had offered. She left me completely uninformed, and didn’t even have the decency to tell me that the discussions were officially over, until I prodded her a few times by email. I felt abandoned and deceived. In addition, her false comment saying I agreed that facilitated discussions were not going to work, made me wonder what else in her report was not true. Now why would my employer believe me?
Nothing positive resulted from the mediation experience. I felt completely shut-out and vilified. Mediation definitely did more harm than good.
A Target Steps Up
ABRC it is your support that helped me get moving and understand what I needed to do. You are great. There were 4 people in my art class dealing with the same thing I am. I have found since you began talking with me that I have been able to begin to say goodbye, and as my work base was only a small part of my life, I now remember that I have a life!
I have begun to switch my focus towards the realization I have friends, family, and even my acquaintances, whom all value me. I have started to see what I have gained from my “farewell to the job” and what is actually real and meaningful in my life.
As I decode my situation …I have realized I need to gain the ability to build healthy boundaries ….before I go back to work. I do not want to work so hard that it consumes me ….in the very way that the bullying did. Work, life, me …a balance… from now own.
I have also gained an understanding that this process is messy! So, I am throwing out the work garbage, I have no attachment to this anymore, it’s all just things. I have also realized that I need to “take back me”from the bullying. If I continue to give in to the emotional control, I will continue to give pieces of me away to the bully. I know I can not change how these individuals continue to act, but what an executive coach has taught me is, I control how I respond.
I have a one-year goal…..I accept that it’s going to take work to recover and move to forward. I am all in. I am worth it! I am going to stick to it. You are terrific! If I can ever help ABRC let me know.
Corrine (of Alberta)
Target Gets Supported! 🙋
After numerous career changes I finally landed a great job in 2008 with a school district as a secretary. What a great feeling to have a career I could retire with! I looked forward with anticipation to my many years of learning and happiness with this organization. Then I met my first bully.
I believed that if I can’t deal with what was happening in my environment the best option was to leave. So I transferred to another department. Met another bully and asked for another transfer. i was noticing a pattern here and couldn’t help but wonder if I were contributing somehow.
This time I found a position at an elementary school. The principal was wonderful as well as the secretary I worked with. I felt very happy but couldn’t help but notice the condescending way our accountant treated me. She would give little gifts to my partner but not to me. She snapped at every idea I had and belittled me in front of parents and co workers. I felt devastated to be in this position yet again but decided not to run any more. I had a frank discussion with my principal and decided to give the system a try.
I wrote a letter to our staff relations adviser to lodge a harassment complaint against the bully. She told me that there would be an investigation as well as a copy of my letter being sent to the bully. Boy did that make things tense at work! In addition I kept a daily log of incidents that occurred with times, dates and witnesses.
Over the next 8 months people were interviewed and information updates were communicated to me and the bully. It was hard for me to see her every day but I made myself face her and keep my mind and focus on the job at hand.
Finally after all was said and done I received a personal letter from our superintendent to communicate the outcome of the investigation. He agreed with the findings that the bully was indeed harassing and bullying. I was not allowed to know what recourse the district would take on her, however she left our school soon after.
Well done Employer! L. Crockett!
I was faculty at MacEwan University (Edmonton, AB), active in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), active in institutional affairs, requested to sit on institutional committees, and an advocate for quality educational programming. Sometime before summer 2010, one or more MacEwan Administrator decided that I must go. Allegations against me were fabricated and exaggerated. Policy and process were abandoned to bias and control the process, to expedite the process, and to prevent appeals. These Administrators ignored their own legal advice. They suppressed an arbitration decision provided by their lawyer because it did not support their objective. They were judge, jury, and executioner with one objective: get rid of me. My responses and defenses were ignored and my concerns and complaints were dismissed. (I later discovered that the person I was submitting the concerns and complaints to was a member of the group, and that her involvement in the group was purposely suppressed for exactly this reason.) The Faculty Association: they looked the other way. Things did not go exactly as Administration had planned, but I was ultimately forced out of MacEwan after two years of this treatment.
Today’s Administration and Faculty Association are focused on suppressing these events instead of fixing the problems. This is not how a real university operates nor is it in the best interests of MacEwan students, staff, faculty, or MacEwan itself.
More information on this story is available at www.PrairieU.ca
I would like to share my story with you but I have to admit, I feel if I do so, somehow, the bully will certainly find out. I have some paranoia about him having abilities to do me further harm. Here it goes with some editing for my safely. The bullying began after I was promoted. I had been doing excellent work and well liked by my staff. My busy work load suddenly increased significantly and I was excluded from important meetings. I was yelled at, ridiculed, and belittled in front of others. I would be given direction one day, and the next screamed at for doing exactly it the way he told me to and his language was vulgar. He appeared to be so well put together, charming, and very articulate. One moment a professional, the next moment a monster. In time he somehow gather others to join him in his bullying. I have since learned that this is called mobbing. I decided to leave this place of employment and I am now doing something I love to do. I am a successful professional with 2 Masters Degrees, but I still feel some of the affects of this experience. This man is very well known in the public eye and for this reason, I must remain anonymous. Thank you for letting me find a way to share my story.
Thanks for raising this issue! I saw others being bullied and losing their jobs, and then it happened to me…in a county child welfare setting, unionized but the union did worse than nothing (bad advice, failure to respond to calls and e-mails, and more) to help me. Too late, I tried going to the HR Dept. to complain. Had not known what to do, tried to keep my head down and just do my job – the workload being overwhelming enough — but learned that if they want to get you, they will, no matter how hard you try — deliberately distorting what one says, lying, soliciting and then escalating complaints from clients, piling on extra work, etc…Like someone else here, I was also reprimanded for working late — despite not asking for overtime, and needing to meet deadlines…Age & ethnic discrimination arguably played their part, too…Ugly ugly ugly. Luckily I had been there long enough and was old enough to retire with a small pension. But not being bilingual, not being licensed, never having supervised others – and having turned 60 – I am having a hard time finding work.
When I had no choice but to quit my job after few years of being bullied, I felt really alone and depressed. I thought perhaps it was my fault and that I did something wrong to be mistreated by my colleagues. When I came across Linda’s article on Work Place Bullying I was shocked to see that there were many others in my situation as well. The article helped me understand my situation more and should this ever happen I read what steps I can take to stand up for myself. I decided to contact Linda and let her know how helpful her article was to me and Linda was amazing with her words of wisdom, supports and kindness. I am so happy that this article is out there and that Linda is speaking up on behalf of all the individuals who were/are bullied at work. This issue is not talked about often and to see that Linda is bringing awareness to WPB I could not be more happier. Thank you Linda for your article, the support you have given me in the past few months and for continuing to bring awareness to WPB. I.A
Linda you saved my life. Hearing you speak about your experience at the conference made me realize exactly what was happening to me. I’ve walking around in a fog feeling hopeless until I heard you say “Name It”. It was a life saver, the timing, your words. This has changed everything for me!
Linda, thank you for doing this work. It takes a lot of guts to stand up there (especially in social work) and speak out about this abuse. We never talk about this, well not openly. No one feels safe. It is needed and I hope more people will follow your lead and start sharing. More who talk, more are heard.
Linda, I am always impressed and touched by your writing. Thank you for your deep honestly, it is a breath of fresh air.
Your presentation and compilation of resources are fantastic. You provide important information that social workers need to know if they encounter these issues in their work place. I have gained so much from this and I now I will step up and support my colleague who has been suffering for a few months now. Until now I just did not know what to do! Thank you ! Hope you keep on going with this!
Linda you have been a wonderful support to me through all of my unfortunate work situation. I feel very fortunate to have had this contact with you. You have an important purpose and you are doing great work. I like that though you are developing your expertise in this area and have much more knowledge on this than I do, you are so open and you enjoy learning from your participants. We have shared and exchanged ideas and this makes me feel heard, understood, supported, and empowered. So thank you.
Your support has been incredibly valuable. It helps just to know that my concerns are valid. I can’t stand to consider myself a “victim” and I avoid engaging in dysfunctional relationships in my personal life so it upsets me to think that I can be forced into this role as a professional. Your work is important for I am sure there are many of us scared to come forward for many reasons.
I can not thank you enough for all of the support and advice that you have provided to me, which I have in turn been able to provide to my co-worker who is also in the same situation. In many ways bullying can be compared to being in an abusive relationship and one of the strategies that the abuser uses is to make you feel isolated and alone, so building connections with other strong individuals who are willing to support you really is one of the most effective ways of overcoming the abuse. It truly means alot to me. It also kind of freaks me out as I have not yet fully embraced/accepted technology and I still can’t believe that you can just meet people in your computer! Lol
I am no where near being ready to speak out about the abuse in my work. I am on probation and I need job for experience so that I can move on. Thanks for understanding how some people are stuck and for speaking out about that! I don’t know what kind of a reference my supervisor will give me when she says that I am too immature to be doing this work. She makes fun of me because I have lived a privileged life and I can’t relate to our clients who are poor and homeless. She calls me ‘princess’ which I hate. She makes me feel stupid and that I have nothing to contribute. Your workshop and resource kit really helped me to see that this is not my fault. She is the one who is insecure. You spoke with me after and I found you so easy to talk to. Thank you for understanding my situation, I know that my life has been easy compared to others. But you validated that my heart and passion is most valuable. You made me realize some of the gifts I have to offer. I will recommend your workshop to people and send them to you for support. Oh and I am happy to see your work continue past your University courses! Keep it up Linda !
For the longest time, I felt my experience with WPB was an isolated incident. It was only after attending Linda’s workshop did I realize the prevalence of WPB. After the workshop, I started to speak with both colleagues and others about WPB. I was very much dismayed to discover that everybody I spoke to had at least one experience with WPB. As social workers, we have knowledge of behaviour and how to help others deal with various problems in their lives. However, that knowledge and expertise can be turned against us to belittle and to question our competence.
– James Venneear. Edmonton
For years I just knew that some dark cloud followed me where ever went in my job, but I never knew what it was. Now I do. Linda is the first social worker that I know of, who has ever spoken out about bullying in my profession. Sure we whisper about it, but no one has stood up in front of other social workers. Until I read her stories in the ACSW Advocate, and then the stories in her resource kit, I kept my mouth closed. I keep missing her workshops because they get booked so fast. That tells me alot of social workers aren’t speaking out but sure want to know about it. Thanks for your courage, and strength. You helped me to know what to look for, and what I can do if it happens again.
– S.B (BSW, RSW)