HR Headaches: When should HR play a role as mediator?

Lora Patterson, HR Advisor at Zenefits
Mar 3, 2022

When should HR play a role as mediator? In a culturally and ideologically diverse workforce, conflict is inevitable, and it’s not only important to address it, but to address it in the right manner Lora Patterson, Senior People Ops Advisor at Zenefits, discusses when HR should mediate conflict and shares steps HR managers can take […]

When should HR play a role as mediator? In a culturally and ideologically diverse workforce, conflict is inevitable, and it’s not only important to address it, but to address it in the right manner

Lora Patterson, Senior People Ops Advisor at Zenefits, discusses when HR should mediate conflict and shares steps HR managers can take to resolve issues effectively.

After you listen:

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On this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [00:30 – 01:15] When employees can handle conflict themselves
  • [01:15 – 03:00] When HR should help mediate conflict
  • [03:00 – 04:00] Why it’s important to address workplace conflict
  • [04:00 – 08:30] Best practices to use in mediation

POPS Star Bio

Lora Patterson is a Senior POPS Advisor at Zenefits, where she advises clients on a broad range of human resources issues including employment laws and regulations, management practices, policies and procedures, and best practices regarding people management, development, and engagement. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.


When should HR play a role as mediator?

Welcome to pops. This show that shows you how to shift from human resources, paperwork to people, operations for the new world of work handle. By answering one question at a time

today, to help us answer your question. Here’s Lora Patterson, Senior People Ops Advisor at Zenefits In an ideal workplace, there would be no conflict. Employees would understand one another communicate effectively and be respectful, but anyone who’s worked in an office knows that’s not always the case in every workplace.

You have people from different cultures, religious backgrounds, I mean, different work styles. And while it can be amazing to have such a vibrant and varied workforce, it can also result in misunderstandings, personality, conflicts, poor communication, or even lack of. Which often leads to conflicts that the company needs to decide how to handle.

There’s often a belief that employees should either work things out themselves or their managers should handle conflict disputes. I believe there are scenarios where those two methods could be effective. If you have employees who feel comfortable discussing issues with each other, and they can find a solution, then by all means go that route.

If you have a manager that feels confident handling. While also remaining neutral, then that can also work. However, there are scenarios where I would recommend having HR step in and act as that mediator. And I would love to address a few with you. The first one is if your company has employees who are not seeing eye to eye, and that could be for many different reasons and their manager just really isn’t sure what to do.

Then HR is a great place to turn to. This could even be a coaching opportunity for HR to show this man. How does resolve conflict in the future, especially if the conflict is around smaller issues. Alternatively, you could have employees who don’t get along. And one feels like the manager prefers the other employee over them.

This employee would want to have a neutral party like HR step in and assist. Another situation I see a lot is if an employee is having issues with their direct manager and they don’t feel confident addressing. This could be issues around feeling like they don’t get a lot of direction or feedback.

Maybe they don’t feel valued on the team, or they could even feel targeted. Like other employees needs are being put above their own and they’re pushed to the background. This could be a great time for them to feel like they can go to HR and they can talk things through and work on a solution. Another situation I see often is managers or directors from other departments are not getting.

It’s similar to the other situations. They may feel like the VP above them, or if it’s the owner, that person could be biased or just not the best person to assist. This would be a good time for HR to be that third party who can remain neutral and offer solutions without bias. The guiding principle in these situations is if employees feel more comfortable asking HR to help, then that option should be available to.

Now I do have clients who wonder, why is this even important? Oftentimes they feel like stepping in could cause more issues or the issues themselves are petty or possibly unimportant to them. What I tell them is allowing long-lasting conflicts to exist negatively affects your workplace. Conflict does not happen in a vacuum.

Everyone who interacts with these employees who are in the midst of this conflict or. Whether it’s the stress from having to hear about this conflict every day, or they could even be pulled into it themselves and have to take aside overall, this hurts morale and it can cause employee turnover and it can make employees lose respect and trust for their leadership who should have a better grasp of what’s happening in their office.

It’s important for companies to show that they value employees by providing them a work environment, devoid of. With this in mind, I would recommend coaching managers to understand when they should handle issues and when HR should be involved and then letting your employees know that they can always turn to their HR department when they need assistance.

Now, the final thing I want to touch on is steps. HR managers can take during the mediation. Something to note is every situation is different. You are dealing with different personalities and it will be up to you to determine what steps are going to be most effective. However, I do want to give you some general guidance on how you can assist in these situations.

The first thing is to make sure both parties are willing to meet and that they are open to hearing from the other side, in order to find a solution. The next thing is ensuring that the mediator, so in this case, HR is not by. That they can remain neutral throughout this process. So both parties can trust that their site will be taken seriously and that their feelings are valid.

Depending on the situation. HR may want to have a one-on-one meeting with each employee before having that group discussion. This would allow employees to explain their side of the conflict. During this meeting, I would encourage employees to provide specific examples that contributed to the conflict and why upset.

The goal is to identify the root issues that you can focus on resolving in the group meeting. It’s important not to get caught up in creating this exhausted list and instead of focus on main issues, and then let them know that when you meet as a group, the goal is to find a solution to the issue. And both parties have to be able to contribute to the solution.

The next step is the group meeting. I would start this meeting by setting some expectations around what you want to accomplish. So it’s important to set some ground rules around being respectful and allowing each person to express their feelings and opinions about past occurrences. HR should let them know that their role is to ensure both sides are heard and they’re not there to take sides.

Instead, they’re there to facilitate a positive discussion that leads to actionable items, which will hopefully resolve this conflict. You’ll then want each party to review their side of the story. Uninterrupted. The only time HR would really step in is if the conversation gets off track and becomes unproductive.

Once both parties have had some time to talk, then it’s time for HR to guide them towards a solution. This could be as simple as summarizing the conflict, the core issues. Once you understand where their conflict is coming from, you can brainstorm solutions that may work to resolve those issues. And then any future issues that could pop up.

Well, you may find many different solutions to these problems. You’re going to want to pick the solution that both parties feel like will work. You’ll then want to have them commit to doing their part. So then it does actually work recently. I was working with a client who had two directors who were just not seeing eye to eye.

One issue. They both kept bringing up, was around managing projects. One director felt like the projects weren’t being done as quickly as they should have been. And her request for prioritizing certain projects was just ignored. The other director felt like they didn’t have enough information to even complete current projects.

And then they would be given last second projects that had to be completed right away, which just wasn’t feasible. What we had them discuss. First of all, was whether or not they thought the process for requesting projects was effective and they both agreed it wasn’t, they’d never formalized a process.

And so they were both just trying to make it. Based on their own work style. So then we went over what that process should look like in order for it to be effective. So really it was just setting up a system that worked for both parties and then including both of their work and communication styles in that system.

And that’s what I would encourage you to do. It’s important to let both sides say what isn’t working and then decide what will work. As a final step, I would recommend setting up a time to meet with both parties in the next month to see if the solution is working, or if you need to change course for a better outcome, resolving conflict in the workplace should be a top priority for your company.

And knowing when to involve HR is essential. If you have employees that don’t feel comfortable coming into work because of the conflict within their team. Then that should be taken seriously and they should feel like HR is a place they can go to for a solution.

Do you have a question for our experts? Click the link in the show notes, or if you’ve got other ideas and feedback about our show, send them to podcast at dot com.

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