Workplace Culture and Mediation: Creating a Workplace Mediation Model That Works


 Photo: The Circulation Desk, 1946 by Bob Kent, State Library Victoria, (

This is the third of a series of posts on papers we are sharing from the 2015 ADR Network Roundtable #ADRRoundtable held last month in Sydney. 

In this post, Pauline Roach describes her work  into developing a healthy workplace dispute resolution culture. Pauline began her career as nurse and midwife, working in several different hospitals in Australia, England and Scotland. Following her return from a 4 year trip overseas, she began a career with the NSW Public Service. Pauline has worked in the dispute resolution field for 20 years and has managed the Community Justice Centres (CJCs) Sydney and Bankstown, where she provided ongoing training and supervision to mediators and staff.

In 2003, Pauline was appointed to the position of Grievance Network Coordinator at the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) where she completed a major review of the RTA’s Grievance Resolution Policy. In this role she established the grievance resolution network and the RTA Workplace Mediation Panel. In 2013 she was appointed to the position of Consultant at Transport for NSW.

Pauline completed the Master in Dispute Resolution at University of Technology, Sydney.


Workplace disputes are disruptive, expensive and often linger in one form or another for long periods of time. This post looks at anew workplace mediation model developed and implemented at (an anonymous for this post) large public sector organisation in New South Wales. The post is in two parts: The first part discusses strategies and structures implemented to respond to workplace disputes. The second part provides details the new hybrid mediation process developed and analyses the outcomes from this mediation process.

Strategies and Structures

The organisation implemented a strategic framework to help develop a corporate culture and context where the principles of ADR could succeed and are accepted by staff. This has involved staffing, policy development and the education of staff. It also includes engagement with the union to encourage and support their members to participate in the process. The organisation, employee and union representative have a shared benefit in the successful resolution of a dispute, the employer has a functioning workplace and the employee has a job. Both groups acknowledge this understanding of the shared benefits and this removes many barriers to the ADR process succeeding.

Policies such as the Code of Conduct outline an ethical framework for the standards of work, conduct and responsibilities for all staff, managers and contractors. The use of ADR processes to resolve workplace disputes are integrated into its culture and policies such as the Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct highlighted that staff must be actively involved in resolving their disputes. Through on going education staffwere aware of the ADR procedures available to them, which assist in the resolution of workplace disputes at the local level. The organisation established a grievance resolution network which provided staff and managers with the tools to resolve workplace issues locally, in a timely manner and as close as possible to the origin of the dispute. The aim is principally to assist in the early identification and management of a dispute before it had a negative impact to the workplace. This included the development of an individual dispute resolution strategy (DRS) for each dispute. A broad range of ADR processes are available to assist in the resolution of disputes:

➢ Mediation
➢ Facilitated discussion
➢ Team Development Days
➢ Conflict coaching
➢ Group facilitation.

For a great description of many of these terms, see this NADRAC document.

Grievance Contact Officers (GCOs) were appointed from across the state for a three year term on a voluntary basis. GCOs assisted staff with workplace communication difficulties and/or interpersonal disputes or other workplace concerns. Where possible they encouraged staff to:

➢ Speak directly with the person concerned
➢ Ask their manager for assistance
➢ Referred the matter to Human Resources for assistance.

To support this policy direction, the organisation has also established a Workplace Mediation Panel. This panel consists of independent consultants who are skilled in the provision of a range of ADR processes.

The Hybrid Mediation Model

The hybrid mediation model implemented at the organisationhas three distinguishing features:

1. Before any ADR intervention is undertaken a thorough intake and /or pre-mediation process is conducted. The aim is to ensure that the most appropriate dispute resolution strategy is developed (i.e. conflict coaching scheduled prior to and after mediation). Before a dispute resolution strategy is developed all parties to the dispute must be identified, interviewed and the facts analysed. It also includes discussions with local managers to gain an understanding of previous action taken to resolve the dispute. Why wasn’t the action successful? What outcome does the manager want and how do they see it being resolved? It may also include discussions with the union organisor.
2. When the agreement is being developed the party’s manager is present. This means that the relevant manager becomes a party to the mediated outcomes so that responsibility for agreed changes to conduct cannot be ignored. In cases where a manager is involved, that manager’s manager is involved. All parties including the manager sign the mediated agreement and are also given a copy of the agreement.
3. Where possible the mediators mirror the parties (e.g. gender, age, language and cultural background).

Bearing in mind the importance of retaining or rebuilding a working relationship following resolution of less complex bullying complaints, the organisation also refers these cases for ADR intervention. In these cases a thorough intake interview is also undertaken to access the power imbalance between the disputants and to ensure the disputants and the manager understand the process and reality check outcome options.

Resolution of workplace disputes requires a strategic and explicit cultural change rather than a piece meal application of ADR processes in isolation. The organisation has implemented a strategic framework and consistent approach, which developed a culture and context where dispute resolution can succeed and be accepted by staff. Through a review of policies and staff education programs, staffs are aware of their responsibilities under the Code of Conduct and various policies. In a climate that supports dispute resolution, the organisation has successfully developed a dispute resolution process which accommodates its unique culture and business.