Case Study - Using Mediation for an ongoing dispute

Jackie and Harry worked for a large public organisation.  Harry had been employed in the same role for many years and was effective, if a little pedantic, in his approach.  He managed a team which had very little turnover of staff and Harry had established detailed systems and processes which he expected to be followed without deviation.

 

Jackie had been employed by the organisation for a shorter period but had quickly moved up to a senior position and had recently been appointed as Harry's line manager with a clear remit to cut the costs of Harry's team as well as make savings in the other areas which Jackie managed.

 

Jackie's style was open and collaborative about what had to be achieved and her meetings with her managers would often involve her taking a particular process and suggesting quite radical changes with a view to opening up a discussion on what was possible. Harry felt that these meetings represented a personal attack on him as it was often a process which Harry had put in place which was up for discussion.

 

Over a few months staff cuts were made and systems and processes were changed as part of an efficiency drive.  Harry resisted the changes by keeping to the old systems and by taking on the work of staff who were no longer with him.  He began to work excessive hours; felt that Jackie was out to get him and stopped talking to her. The stress caused him to lose sleep and become depressed and he reached a point where he could no longer carry on and was signed off by the doctor as unfit for work.  

 

Harry raised a grievance against Jackie for harassment and bullying.

 

Both parties agreed to try mediation and at the initial meeting with Harry he described how he felt about the changes which were taking place and disclosed that the stress he was under had led him to consider taking his life. 

 

Jackie explained how she had thought that Harry would be a real ally for her with his experience and detailed knowledge of the systems and was fustrated that he did not contribute to the management meetings.  Jackie was concerned that Harry was frustrating the efficiency drive and that this would lead to the closure of Harry's office.

 

At the joint meeting Harry was initially reluctant to open up to Jackie.  Gradually both Harry and Jackie explained to each other how they were interpreting the other's actions and both accepted that their views were based on many misunderstandings.  They also recognised that the conflict was to some extent caused by very different styles of working which neither had appreciated and so had interpreted as hostile.  Harry went on to tell Jackie the level of distress which he now felt and Jackie was visibly shocked to hear that he felt this way and explained that she had no inkling that it had reached this level and apologised unreservedly for her part.

 

Once both parties understood each other better, the agreements which followed were quite easy to make.  They involved regular one-to-one contact so that Jackie could support Harry as he recovered; Jackie agreed to give Harry advanced notice if she was planning to put one of his systems up for discussion and Harry agreed that he would now participate in discussions without taking them as a personal attack.  Both wanted to work together to ensure that the office did not have to close. 

 

Harry withdrew his grievance.

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