Workplace mediation provides a swift, cost-effective and constructive way of resolving conflict. Not only does it resolve current issues, but it also provides those involved with helpful insights to reduce future conflict.
Although we all know disagreements and disputes in the workplace are unpleasant, we underestimate the costs of conflict. Researching this topic for my book Conflict First Aid: How to stop personality clashes and disputes damaging you or your organisation, I found
… poorly managed conflicts cost organisations: the average employee spends 2.1 hours a week dealing with conflict. For the US alone, that translates to 385 million working days spent every year as a result of conflict in the workplace…Indeed, nearly one in ten even saw conflict lead to a project failure. (CPP Global Human Capital Report July 2008)
Disciplinary and grievance procedures are time and energy-consuming. If the matter goes to litigation, legal fees mount up. It is rare to recover all the costs, never mind the cost of the time spent trying to resolve the conflict.
Insurance costs rise. Theft and sabotage are more likely where there is conflict. Managers spend a considerable amount of time in resolving conflict, damage limitation and investigations.
Staff often leave because of personality clashes or poor working relationships. The cost of recruiting and training new staff is another hidden cost of conflict. Morale suffers, and absenteeism rises. The brightest and best are more likely to leave, and the business starts a downward spiral. Examples and statistics about using mediation to resolve workplace issues from ACAS and CIPD.
What is workplace mediation?
Workplace mediation is a chance for people (the parties) in conflict to take time out from legal or other formal processes and try a more human approach. With the help of a skilled professional mediator, people are often able to find a solution that suits them both. It is a confidential, voluntary process when both parties want to find a mutually acceptable outcome. Participants may have already started taken legal advice or considering it. Both parties need to agree to the process (Roundtuit Participant Agreement to Take Part) and to the mediator chosen.
What is the difference between workplace mediation and employment mediation?
When the employment relationship is potentially at an end and a dispute exists between the (ex)employee and the employer, employment mediation takes place. In this case the end result is likely to be a settlement agreement. When the employment relationship is likely to continue, workplace mediation works best. Both mediations follow a similar process, however, in workplace mediation there is more focus on improving and repairing relationships.
What does a mediator do?
First, a mediator speaks with each person involved in the situation individually. These sessions are confidential. Nothing is shared with anyone else (unless the person specifically says to do so). Each participant is encouraged to give their view, and express their needs. The mediator helps the person reflect on how to express this so that the other participants can understand. This time for consideration helps people think more clearly and objectively. It helps to highlight common interests. These sessions create an environment for the participants to have a constructive conversation. Then, when both participants are ready, the mediator arranges a joint session.
Next, the joint session is held, ideally in a neutral venue. In the joint session, the mediator acts as a SatNav or translator. The mediator(s) keep things on track by focussing on solutions and the future. We highlight similarities and differences. Then, we explore these with participants and discuss options. This skilled management of the meeting helps the participants understand each other’s issues. They may be in the same room talking together with the mediator present or in different rooms with the mediator moving between them. This is also the case on-line with a virtual meeting.
At the end of the mediation, the mediator will write up any agreements or actions that are made on mediation. When there is no agreement, the mediator provides a statement of where things have ended. It is up to the parties with whom they share it. In the case of payment by an employer or third party, the parties in the mediation agree what information may be shared with the buyer by the mediator.
What are the principles?
Confidential: Everything that happens in the meeting is confidential. There are exceptions to this, for example, if there is a child protection issue, if someone is in immediate danger, or if someone has benefited financially from a crime. We will also co-operate with court orders.
Voluntary: The participants choose whether or not they want to use mediation. They are free to withdraw at any time. Mediation is non-binding; the parties are responsible for keeping any agreements they make. Some mediated agreements become legally binding court orders.
Non-judgemental: Mediators do not make judgments about the situation or tell the parties what to do.
Independent: Mediators are independent of the dispute and don’t take sides. They help both parties equally.
When is workplace mediation helpful?
Workplace mediation is helpful in situations such as
- employees disagreements/differences are impacting the work situation
- misunderstandings and miscommunication have reduced trust
- breakdown in relations between employer and employee
- an employee complains but is reluctant to start formal procedures
Mediation can take place at any stage in the conflict process. It is most effective
Workplace mediation should not be used
- if things can be resolved informally
- for grievances which the individual wants formally investigated (eg harassment or discrimination)
- when one party refuses to participate (In this case conflict coaching may be more appropriate.)
- where line management should take action
- if there are concerns about an employee’s mental health or safety unless the employee has adequate support