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ADR-based Workplace Conflict Management Systems: A Case of American Exceptionalism

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[Excerpt] The diffusion of ADR-based conflict management systems is a development increasingly highlighted in the literature. Organizations are seen as putting in place multiple procedures and practices so that different varieties of workplace conflict can be effectively addressed. Just why organizations are electing to introduce these integrated bundles of innovative conflict management practices is a matter of debate, but many view the development as transforming the manner in which workplace problems are managed in modern organizations, with some even pronouncing that it amounts to the rewriting of the social contract at work (Lipsky and Seeber 2006). This paper argues that to the extent to which conflict management systems are being diffused, it is occurring mainly in the USA became the institutional context for the management of the employment relationship creates considerable incentives for the adoption of ADR-inspired conflict management innovations. Other Anglo-American countries, where it might be thought reasonable to expect a similar pattern of ADR innovation at the workplace to emerge, are not experiencing any discernible shift towards conflict management systems inside organizations. It is suggested that in the absence of institutional incentives to adopt workplace management systems, organizations are unlikely to opt for radical conflict management innovations. At the same time, drawing on research in the Irish context, it is argued that tried-and-tested conflict management practices do change over time, with an incremental and evolutionary approach adopted by some organizations to upgrade practices considered the most interesting development. The paper is organized as follows. The first section assesses why the emergence of integrated conflict management systems in organizations is considered to be a significant new development in the USA. The next section evaluates evidence and suggests that a similar pattern of workplace conflict management innovation is not occurring in other Anglo-American countries. After this evaluation, it is suggested that the institutional context in the USA creates uniquely strong incentives for organizations to adopt integrated bundles of ADR practices at the workplace - causing the emergence of conflict management systems to be a case of ‘American exceptionalism’. The following section argues that in the absence of strong institutional incentives to do so, organizations are unlikely to move radically away from established conflict management systems. The penultimate section explains that even in the presence of organizational inertia, conflict management practices seldom stay the same and uses research in the Irish context to suggest that organizations sometimes use an evolutionary approach to upgrade conflict management practices in an incremental yet continuous manner. The final section presents a number of case studies of this evolutionary approach to conflict management innovation. The conclusions bring together the arguments of the paper.

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alternative dispute resolution; ADR; conflict management; United States


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conference papers and proceedings

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