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Exploring Employment Disputes: What Causes Them & Can They Be Prevented?


JAMS Washington D.C. neutral Jerry Roscoe recently authored an article for Bloomberg Law Reports, which asked the timely question “Has the Workplace Become a War Zone?” In the piece, Mr. Roscoe explores possible origins of workplace disputes and offers strikingly simple solutions for preventing common employment conflicts before they can escalate past the point of repair.

It seems there are certain shifts in organizational culture that are driving an increase in employee lawsuits. This growth is attributed to a number of factors, including; a perceived disparity of interests between employers and employees, external pressure on both parties caused by the economic downturn and the subsequent proliferation of an “Us” vs. “Them” mentality.

Mr. Roscoe explains, the notion of disparity of interests is often a misperception produced by “zero sum” thinking in the workplace. Zero sum thinking – in this particular situation, triggered by economic uncertainty – is the idea that “in any given relationship, there is only a fixed quantity of something” thus the thinker concludes, “Whenever someone gains in the relationship, someone else must lose.”

When zero sum thinking persists, it begins to foster an “Us” vs. “Them” mentality, wherein “Employers and employees have lost sight of their common interests.” And everyone – including customers – is negatively affected by the gap between “labor” and “management.”

Mr. Roscoe offers a simple method for employers to counter this toxic mindset: by taking note of what actually motivates employees. He says, “Employers might be surprised to learn that workers are just as motivated by efficiency and productivity as they are.”

Employers are also urged to consider the cost of denying employees’ requests; an easy default in an “Us” vs. “Them” situation. The true cost of saying no (often, a negative impact on morale and productivity) can far outweigh the monetary cost of saying yes. Employers should instead ask what can be gained by saying yes, before making a strictly economically-driven decision.

Finally, he looks at how something as simple as giving one another the benefit of the doubt can be an extremely powerful gesture. He urges both sides not to rush to the assumption that behavior, for which there is seemingly no explanation, comes from negative intent. On the contrary, each should assume others’ intentions are to be “productive and meaningful” since that is often the case.

Mr. Roscoe concludes by reminding us that while many employment disputes have been successfully resolved through mediation, irreparable damage can already be done by the time a mediator is called in to help. Decades of experience in the field have taught him that the most effective solution is often prevention. Thus, he encourages employers and employees alike to utilize respectful tactics rooted in mutual understanding and open communication to resolve, or possibly even prevent, employment disputes altogether.


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