Mediation is defined as a negotiation that is supported by an independent party to resolve differences. It’s now mainly associated with workplace conflict to the point where well known organisations like ACAS provide mediation services and deliver mediation training across the UK.
Workplace disputes can cause many types of damage, including reduction of motivation, drops in productivity, increased risk of constructive dismissal claims and adverse effects on profitability. The outcomes that are largely associated with poorly handled conflict are resignations, sickness absence, breakdowns in working relationships and tribunal claims – all of which cost time, money, expertise and reputation.
Here are 10 major scenarios where mediation can help to reverse problems within the work environment:
- Two or more people just can’t get on and others are starting to notice: Nipping a dispute in the bud can help one staff member to accept that the other person has the right to their point of view. Mediation offers the chance for them to get things off their chest and then to be brought together at the right time to rebuild their relationship.
- There is a poor conflict management culture: Using mediation will demonstrate to managers that there is a tried and tested model to resolve relationship difficulties and help them to perform better in dealing with conflict.
- The organisation is experiencing a major period of change: Some employees find it difficult to deal with rapid change while others don’t understand what the problem is, leading to friction, stress and arguments. Mediation can help a staff team appreciate what everyone is going through and prevent the triggers of disputes.
- Bad relationships have festered for some time: Although it may be a lengthier process and it won’t be without its challenges, mediation can help to address situations where things have spiralled to the point where a poor working relationship is actually poisoning the working environment. The process will focus on trying to rebuild respect for the other people involved.
- Goals (or the approach to them) become incompatible: This is a more common issue within the management team. When managers disagree fundamentally on how to achieve business objectives, mediation can set them back on track to a shared vision.
- Stress-related illness and anxiety are taking hold: When disputes are causing people to call in sick, early intervention through mediation and supportive absence management can help those involved to understand the different points of view and why the disagreements have arisen. When they understand these, they can start to develop more productive relationships with each other.
- Emotions are getting in the way of staff working well together: A repeating dispute can move from an intellectual to an emotional basis. When emotions come into the mix, people are less able to figure out how to solve the problems and mediation gives them the chance to express their feelings to an objective party and work through them.
- Bullying or dominant personalities in the workplace: Mediation might not always be the right option in this scenario but it can be useful in instances where the person being accused of bullying doesn’t realise the impact that their behaviour has. The mediator will express those issues clearly to the individual and help them to find ways of addressing the problem. However, deciding to offer mediation is a judgement call; it may be more appropriate to consider the disciplinary process for the sake of the staff team and the company.
- Disputes between trade unions and management: ACAS is often asked to mediate in these situations before they escalate to more official action. They are generally more effective in situations where a small group out of the larger workforce is affected.
- As an alternative to the grievance procedure: If the affected parties will commit to the mediation process, they are more likely to understand the points of view of the other people involved. Grievances can be polarising, where one employee expects the company to ‘take sides’ against the other person, but mediation requires everyone to focus on acceptable solutions.
About the Author
Katherine Graham has 22 years’ experience in the field of workplace dispute resolution. She was made Managing Director of CMP Resolutions in 2009; prior to this she was CMP’s Director of Dispute Resolution. She has delivered more then 400 mediations, often working at the most senior level mediating complex disputes between directors, partners, and CEOs.