nizations, leading to the understanding that organizations are
complex systems. There might not be one single person at fault,
but rather a systemic issue or policy that needs to be improved.
Systems Theory also means that there are multiple ways to
resolve a dispute. Disputes might be resolved through HR, as in
the last 50 years, or they might be resolved through employee
negotiation, third-party mediation, or employee-led changes. As
employees became more empowered, they also became more
self-sufficient. This led to an assumption that each individual has
the capacity to resolve a dispute, with the potential for employees to become less dependent on others for resolving conflicts.
Employees are part of a large SYSTEM in which their self-interest
is satisfied, their need to belong and change is satisfied, and they
are ready to accomplish change.
CURRENT WORKPLACE DISPUTES
What can mediators do to prepare themselves
for this work?
Knowing the history of workplace dispute resolution processes
helps us to understand what disputes are common in the work-
place today. The three most common disputes based on the
author’s dissertation research12 are:
• Poor communication,
• Lack of clarity, and
• Dysfunctional groups
Communication: Employees are be-
coming increasingly isolated in their
responsibilities, as they interact primarily
with a computer on a daily basis. Employ-
ees still have the same agathokakological
needs (Agathokakological: meaning they
are comprised of both self-interest and
a need to help others). Employees need
to have both self-interest and “others-
interest” needs met to be wholly satisfied
in the workplace. Their self-interest has
been largely protected through the last
100 years of workplace culture change and
legislation: fair pay, fair hours, safe work-
place, right to assemble, and a guaranteed
retirement. The need to help, or extrin-
sic interests, were previously satisfied by
engaging in an interactive workplace and
working for constructive change in the
company or the community. This “others-
interest” need is being satisfied more and
more now through social media. Liking a
friend’s post on Facebook or giving $5 to a
GoFundMe charity brings the same feeling
of satisfaction (but instantaneously, in a
smaller amount, and for a shorter time) as
volunteering at a local charity. This means that employees feel less
of a drive to contribute to their organization or be a part of a team,
since their extrinsic charitable desires are satisfied through social
media. This extreme self-reliance and individualism has led to a
decrease in normal social communication and the ability to engage
in interactive, collaborative problem-solving. Unfortunately, this
poor communication is often interpreted by coworkers as negative
or mean communication, which can easily lead to disputes.
Clarity: Another byproduct of increasingly complex systems is that
employees are expected to be aware of many parts of the company.
To accomplish a project, an employee might need to work with R&D
and IT, be familiar with multiple software programs, and be in touch
with vendors and the sales team. Employees throughout the country are reporting that they are expected to know more and do more
in the same amount of time. These changing responsibilities are not
yet fully defined, which leads to confusing roles and responsibilities.
This often results in task overlap or tasks overlooked. Another possible cause of the lack of clarity is that managers are often selected
based on their task skill (“he is the best programmer so he manages
the programming team”), instead of their leadership skills. This lack
of leadership and a consequent inability to make tough decisions
effectively can result in office confusion.
The chart below summarizes the main cause of disputes reported
by organizations in a 2013 survey conducted by Fowler Mediation.