Workplace Mediation is a confidential, informal and voluntary process, which involves an impartial mediator facilitating communication between employees who are in dispute.
‘Mediation is based on the principle of collaborative problem-solving, with a focus on the future and rebuilding relationships, rather than apportioning blame.’ (1)
The aim is to assist the parties in developing mutually acceptable agreements to improve their future working relationship. Mediation can be effective in both union and non-union settings and at all levels of the organisation.
Workplace Mediation offers important benefits to employers and employees alike. It provides a fast, creative, mutually satisfactory resolution. When a dispute is mediated shortly after it arises, the chances of optimal resolution are much greater: the parties’ differences have not had a chance to fester, the situation is generally more fluid, and the parties have more resolution options available to them.
(1) Source: University of Central Lancashire mediation policy and ACAS
Workplace Mediation Resolutions
Mediated resolutions work better and last longer than authoritatively imposed resolutions because everyone involved has a stake and buys into them. Moreover, mediation fosters mutual respect through improved communication, and can mend and preserve frayed working relationships even when the parties are extremely hurt and angry.
Mediation within the workplace generally looks very different from mediation within the context of litigation. The primary goal of workplace mediation is to leave the parties better able to work together. Traditional “settlement conferences,” in which the mediator separates the parties and shuttles back and forth between them, do not have the same level of success; it’s far more effective if the parties work through their differences together.
Failure to Communicate
Many disputes arise out of a failure by either employees or both to communicate, understand or consider the needs and interests of the other. People fix their attention on the question, “Who is right and who is wrong?” and become blind to the possibility that both may have a legitimate point of view.
The mediator’s task is to open communications between them about the reasons for the positions they have taken, helping both employees to understand as fully as possible their own and the other’s view of the situation. The mediator encourages both employees to look at the dispute from different viewpoints by asking questions such as: What do they think will work as a practical solution? What is a fair course of action? What do they think will best promote a good working relationship?
As the parties gain understanding of the situation from both perspectives, their ability to work together toward resolution increases.
The Mediation Process
An experienced mediator, such as those from hchr in Swansea, will consult in advance with a representative from the organisation to clarify expectations with respect to confidentiality, reporting and to gain an understanding of the conflict. They will then meet with each person individually to understand the issues from each employee’s point of view. Next the mediator will bring the parties together for a face-to-face mediation session. The mediation meeting is structured in order to encourage constructive communication and clarification of the main issues, and help those in dispute to come up with mutually acceptable agreements as to the way forward.
These voluntary agreements provide the basis of how the parties will interact going forward. Subject to all parties’ consensus, an option is to write up the agreement and for a follow-up meeting with the mediator at some point in the future in order to see how the agreements are working out. The team at hchr recommends a follow-up meeting 1 – 3 months later to provide additional support and to hold the parties accountable to the commitments they made to each other.
Heather Cooper, Director at hchr, explains why workplace mediation is an effective tool to resolve employee disputes:
When to use Workplaced Mediation Effectively?
Virtually any difference that arises in the workplace can benefit from mediation if the parties are willing to deal directly with each other and if the company provides the resources for mediation. Over time, a workplace in which mediation is the preferred dispute resolution mechanism is likely to become a workplace in which employees need less assistance in working through differences and begin to become natural collaborators.
Conflicts arise between employees and between managers and employees and mediation can be used successfully in any situation where there is a willingness of the parties to try to resolve the conflict.
So what are the main issues?
Relationship Breakdown and Personality clashes
These are the most commonly understood reasons for engaging in mediation Sometimes interpersonal differences can prevent co-workers from functioning effectively together. If the company needs both employees and wants them to work together harmoniously, mediation can be very effective. The employees are offered a controlled setting in which to air their differences, guidance in communicating effectively about them, and a chance to make agreements about how they will function together in the future.
A good employee can stop performing well for many reasons. Often, when the manager attempts to address the problem, the employee responds with fear and defensiveness, resulting in further deterioration. Mediation can help each understand the other’s needs, requirements and requests and can yield an agreement about how they will work together in the future. Both are more likely to observe such an agreement because both had a hand in creating it.
Bullying and harassment: a judgement call
‘Sometimes certain behaviours can be perceived as discrimination, harassment or bullying, when that is not how they were intended. Mediation can be a good way to help the “victim” see the other person’s perspective and help the other side see how their behaviour is affecting their colleagues. This is a difficult area and it is a judgement call for the mediators to make if it becomes clear during mediation that discrimination, harassment, bullying or poor treatment is going on. They would have to consider stopping the mediation. They would not normally do anything about the misconduct themselves due to the confidentiality agreed before the mediation, but they can advise the parties accordingly.’ Ministry of Justice & ACAS
Each situation needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis, as serious cases of bullying and harassment, and clear cases of discrimination, may need to be dealt with by more formal procedures.
Mediation is useful when the manager is either perceived to be biased has insufficient skills in handling people conflict or ‘emotional anger’.
Discipline and Grievance Procedures
Mediation is often offered as an optional stage in the formal discipline and grievance procedures. Where this is not the case, it is important to clarify whether the discipline and grievance procedure can be put into abeyance and if mediation is deemed to be an appropriate method of resolving the dispute. .
It is grievances that most obviously lend themselves to the possibility of mediation as this offers the opportunity to prefer to tackle the underlying relationship issues rather than a third party impose a verdict which invariably leaves at least one of the parties less that satisfied with the outcome.
However if the formal route has been taken mediation can also be used at any stage in the conflict as long as any on going formal procedures are put on hold.
It can be used after a formal dispute has been resolved to rebuild relationships.
relationships after any disciplinary or grievance process.
However, there are certain types of workplace conflicts in which any company would be well-advised to offer mediation.
Mediation may not be suitable if:
- The parties haven’t made some attempt at resolving the matter either by speaking to each other and or talking to their manager before they seek a solution via mediation
- The manger uses mediation to avoid his/her managerial responsibilities
- a decision about right or wrong is needed, for example where there is possible criminal activity
- the individual bringing a discrimination or harassment case wants it investigated
- someone has learning difficulties that would impair their ability to make an informed choice
- an individual is particularly vulnerable
- the parties do not have the power to settle the issue
- one side is completely intransigent and using mediation will only raise unrealistic expectations of a positive outcome.
For organisations that understand and recognise the benefits of workplace mediation as a pro-active HR tool, then they must also recognise the importance of employing a fully trained and experienced workplace mediator.
The team at hchr have undergone rigorous training and are now the first choice for workplace mediation issues in South West Wales.
To find out more about hchr’s workplace mediation service, contact us on the following number: