April Fool’s Day: Can Mediation Help When Workplace Pranks Go Too Far?

Scott McIver Articles

April Fool’s! It’s that time of year again!

And, even though it falls on a Sunday this year, it is a day that usually evokes enjoyment and excitement in the workplace. After all, an intricate, well-thought out prank (or even precisely the opposite!) can be a great way to bond with colleagues. More often than not, it’s good-spirited fun, builds rapport and can solidify both working and social relationships.

However, we’ve all been there where a joke hasn’t quite hit it’s intended spot or, even worse, has been misinterpreted and caused serious offence. Taken too far or meant maliciously, these pranks and jokes can even cross the line into what some may deem to be bullying.

And, unfortunately, bullying is still a common issue in many places of work. According to statistics, 6 in 10 British employees have been a victim of, or witness to, abuse in the office, with 20% afraid to speak out against it1.

The statistics make for even worse reading in the US, with 75% having at least witnessed bullying and 29% admitting to not reporting or taking action against it2.

It’s not just the victim that it affects either. From a purely business point of view, the negative effects of bullying are often immeasurable on the overall workplace. Decreased productivity, office hostility and even absenteeism can all crop up, causing headaches for management and HR staff alike.

Of course, most employers have procedures and rules in place to prevent bullying. Whilst the specifics of these may vary, they should all encompass the following:

  • Acknowledging the importance of the issue, whilst also taking any allegations seriously (be wary of throwing the term “bullying” around though!).
  • Training managers on how to deal with it in a positive and pro-active manner as it happens.
  • Encouraging managers to use collaborative, solution-focused approaches – mediation, for example.
  • Having a zero-tolerance culture and mindset in the workplace, led by upper management.

Sometimes, however, this isn’t enough. And, if it isn’t, what can be done instead?

For some time now, employers have been trying to find new ways to tackle workplace disputes – ideally, ones that are cheaper, more effective and deal with the problem at its root.

Mediation has emerged as one of those methods.

Here at UK Mediation, we are often asked to deal with workplace cases where bullying, or what is perceived to be bullying, has taken place. More often than not, the “quiet words”, facilitated meetings and disciplinary actions have already taken place, all to no avail.

And, to back this approach up, it is generally accepted (as well as what we have experienced) that 80-90% of mediation cases conclude with a positive agreement at the end of it3. Even if the case doesn’t have a fairytale ending, we often find that it re-opens communication and an agreement may become possible further down the line.

Our aim throughout cases like these is to help the participant to develop some insight and awareness into how they act and how that might affect people around them. From there, we can then invite them to change that behaviour and, as a result, the outcomes of it.

This process involves:

  • Talking through challenging conflict situations that they have experienced and that they voluntarily offer for discussion.
  • “Re-experiencing” past situations in the present tense to get their thoughts and feelings about difficult interactions.
  • Identifying links between thoughts, emotion and behaviour, as well as how they relate to the consequences.
  • Becoming an ally as opposed to an enemy and try to turn their mistrust into co-operation.
  • Focusing on positive future behaviour – we are not there to blame, shame or accuse!
  • Being empathic to the participant and their needs, and set achievable goals that are tailored toward them.

Having said all of that, it goes without saying that businesses must remove individuals who continue to display such behaviours even after going through these interventions.

However, if an individual does genuinely want to change, it is only fair that they are given the opportunity to learn, grow and develop their relationship skills.

Mediation can certainly help with that.

Watch our webinar on the topic of bullying, “Understanding Workplace Bullying
Find out more about our Workplace Mediation services for your organisation
Qualify your team in dispute resolution with our in-house Workplace Mediation training course

1 “Workplace Bullying: Aggressive Behaviour and It’s Effect On Job Satisfaction and Productivity“, Workplace Violence 911, 2008                  
2 “2017 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey“, Workplace Bullying Institute, 2017                                 
3 “Mediation: The Cost Effective Answer For Employers Following The Supreme Court’s Ruling“, Pro-VIDE Law, 2017