Mediation is a tool to resolve workplace conflict or disputes. It’s often described as a form of alternative or informal dispute resolution as it’s less formal than grievance and discipline procedures and employment tribunals. Although it is considered an ‘informal’ process, it does still have a structured approach.
The aim of mediation is to allow all parties to speak confidently in a safe and secure environment and to encourage a mutual understanding in how to improve working relationships. It focuses on trying to address underlying causes of conflict and has a win/win emphasis, supporting both sides of a dispute to find solutions that are acceptable to each side. It therefore encourages more positive outcomes in the workplace that more traditional adversarial formal processes.
Key aspects that make workplace mediation so effective are it’s timeliness, as it can take place very quickly, and its flexibility as it can be used at any stage of a disagreement or dispute. A trained mediator’s role is to act as an impartial third party who facilitates a meeting between two or more people in dispute to help them reach an agreement. Although the mediator is in charge of the process, any agreement comes from those in dispute. Agreements made through a workplace mediation process are not legally binding, but are made with a moral voluntary commitment.
Specifically, mediation provides the potential to:
- Help parties involved in conflict to hold open conversations that would normally be too difficult to have
- Help parties to understand and empathise with each other’s emotions and situations.
- Explore all parties’ issues and concerns and use joint problem-solving to find a solution that each side feels is fair.
- Encourage communication and establish workable relationships.
- Help participants develop the skills to resolve workplace difficulties for themselves in future.
Different types of workplace disputes can be resolved with mediation, including conflict arising from poor communication, unclear role boundaries, different working styles, issues relating to harassment or bullying. Most disputes can be resolved provided that all parties are prepared to work on the issues, and they have the authority to settle the situation.
Confidentiality is a key element of workplace mediation. Like most types of mediation what happens in the mediation process remains confidential unless the parties agree it can be shared. But colleagues do not work in a vacuum, and it is important that mediation outcomes are practical in the workplace. While nothing is written on the employee record, it may be appropriate for HR and/or line/senior management to be aware.
Workplace mediation has significant benefits for individuals, but also their teams, line management and the wider organization. Research from the CIPD shows that individuals will wrestle with a dispute or difficult relationship at work for at least six months before taking any action (such as speaking to HR).
Experiences of conflict can lead to low morale, sickness, stress, absenteeism, decline in productivity. Management time spent on disputes can escalate quickly and it can easily start to affect wider team members. It can lead to turnover, and ultimately reputational damage.
Mediation can be an extremely quick and effective way to head all the negative aspects of conflict, off at the pass.