What is Mediation and How Do I Use it in the Workplace?

Mediation is a formal process to help resolve workplace disputes.  It has to be voluntary – it won’t work if one party or the other has been forced into it.  You must also ensure it is confidential.   Mediation involves an independent third party working with the conflicting parties.  The aim is  to try and find an amicable result which works for everyone.  It can be done internally, using a third party mediator who is not involved in the issue.  You need to ensure the mediator is seen as independent by all parties.  Alternatively, you can use an external mediator, who will definitely be independent.

The Benefits of Mediation

If you have conflict in the workplace it can be extremely disruptive, and not just for the parties involved.  It is crucial for you to manage this conflict before it destroys the smooth running of the organisation.  If you fail to manage it, then it will ultimately have a negative effect on your business.

The conflict could escalate to such an extent that  external organisations become involved (such as ACAS or Employment Tribunals in the UK).   Those organisations actively encourage parties to use mediation as a resolution.

As well as helping to resolve workplace conflicts, successful mediation can improve communication and restore trust.  It enables the parties to feel that their position has been heard and considered.  It enables people to move on from the conflict.

When should we be using mediation in the workplace?

Mediation can be used successfully to resolve issues where two people cannot work together.  I have used it successfully where two people had reached the point where they did not speak to each other, but where they needed to collaborate on a project.  Every time they needed to discuss anything, they just argued, with neither party listening to the other.   They were never going to be friends, but the mediation enabled them to work together in a professional manner.  It achieved a successful outcome for the project.

You can use mediation if your employee has raised a formal grievance.  Or it is sometimes useful if there has been a fairly minor act of misconduct.  Mediation can provide a safe environment to raise these issues.  They can be discussed and resolved without the need for formal action.

You could also use mediation as a formal way of following up any formal proceedings.  It can be a particularly helpful way to improve working relationships so that all parties can move forward.

What happens in mediation?

There is no set way for mediation to take place.  The mediator can discuss the alternative approaches with the individuals and agree what they want to do.  Sometimes, the mediator will discuss the issues separately with each party and then feedback to the other party until they can reach some agreement.  Alternatively, all parties can sit round a table and discuss the issues in an open forum.  The mediator can suggest solutions, or the individual parties can suggest solutions.  External mediators can often suggest practical solutions to complex problems.  The aim is for the parties to come up with outcomes which are appropriate and which work for all.

Mediation is a flexible solution and can often be more successful than having to abide by a decision or instruction from a third party.

The discussions are completely confidential and are not binding.  If an agreed outcome is reached, then that becomes binding.

Are there any disadvantages?

Mediation may not be the right solution for more complex problems, or where there has been a serious breach of conduct.

Mediation does not guarantee a successful resolution, which may make it hard to justify the cost.  If you use an internal mediator, then it is likely to take up  a good deal of their time, at least in the short-term.  This also moves their focus from the role they are employed to do.   Even if you use an external mediator, then it may still not be possible for the parties to reach a workable solution.

Mediation only works when both parties agree to take part in it.  Some people are not prepared to try to achieve an agreed outcome.  They are so entrenched in their view, that they want their “day in court” to prove the rights of their case.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Value My Abilities and Support My Disabilities

I read a story in the news yesterday, about a comedian with disabilities who used a mobility scooter.  She was on her way home from a gig by train.  This woman was treated poorly by a guard, who then made a public announcement about her.  She felt humiliated.   At the end, the article commented that the rail company who employed the guard were horrified at the story but declined to say whether or not they were going to take any action against the guard.  I support that decision.  Any action is between them as the employer and the guard as the employee.

This unpleasant story got me thinking about the way we treat people who have “disabilities”.  More specifically, how do employers treat them?

Am I overlooking my best asset?

The real key is to look at people’s abilities, rather than their disabilities.  What can they do?  And what can they do well?  How will they be an asset to our business?  In these days of skills shortages, it would be madness to cut yourself off from a potential source of the very skills you seek, just because that person may come with some “difficulty” which you need to address.  How many of us don’t come with difficulties attached?

I think employers are sometimes afraid to employ people who have a disability, as they may have to make some adjustments in the workplace.  Well, any decent employer would be considering adjustments for any of their employees, not just those with a disability.  Many people have caring responsibilities, or childcare needs, or transportation difficulties.  Some people may need to work specific hours, or in a specific location.

So adjusting to a wheelchair, or giving a different screen, or giving a different chair – or any other “reasonable adjustment” is probably a minor issue.  This is especially the case when it is measured against the benefits that individual could bring.  I remember years ago that a local supermarket employed a woman who had learning difficulties.  She was the happiest, most helpful person and always greeted everyone with a huge smile and a cheery greeting.  She was really popular with staff and customers alike.  What a huge asset she was for that employer.

How can I find you?

Another reason why employers may not make the best use of this pool of potential employees, is simply a logistical one. If disabled people don’t apply for vacancies, how can I find them to employ them?  This is really a chicken and egg situation.  People who may have a physical or mental challenge may be afraid to apply for mainstream jobs, especially if they have faced rejection or harsh treatment before. There are several agencies which specialise in finding work for people with disabilities and they would always be glad to hear from an employer who may be able to offer work.  I am not suggesting that you employ solely from this pool, but including this route in your search for employees may reap benefits for both you and the individual.

How do I support you?

It is only natural that you have concerns about giving the right support to people.  But how do you know what  is needed?  Ask them!  The individuals themselves know what they need to be able to function effectively in the world.  They have been living with this issue for a long time, so they are in the best position to guide you.

There is also a huge amount of help available to make it easy to employ someone with a disability. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of professional help and guidance on any adjustments you may need to make.  You need to think about the normal every day situation, but also what happens in an emergency – if you need to evacuate the building, for example.

Going back to the original story, there is one more thing to think about.  Do your other employees know how to behave and how to treat their new colleague? Again, you could start by asking the individual what messages they want to give to their colleagues.

In another news story yesterday, an autistic girl had written an article on social media about the difficulties she faces on a daily basis.  She had done this because she wanted people to understand how she felt and thought about things.  Mostly people just want others to understand the difficulties they face, and make necessary allowances for that.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Am I already making adjustments?

You probably already employ people who have a “disability”  and need adjustments, but they may not have told you, or their colleagues, about it.  Many people have mental health difficulties, either temporary or longer-term, which they do not want to share with the world.

In addition, any women may have hormonal issues (menstrual or menopausal, or any stop in between) – not a disability, but it will probably affect their work from time to time.  Again, it is not something we like to talk about necessarily.

I have suffered from migraine for my whole life.  It is just part of my life and I would not consider it a disability, nor would I dream of telling an employer about it at interview.  But it means that I need to take the odd day off sick – usually at an inconvenient time.  Or sometimes I am at work but not functioning to the best of my ability.

The point I am making is that we are all different and we all have challenges in our lives.  We also all like to be appreciated and valued.  This is especially important at work, where we spend so much time.  So as employers, we should be supporting our employees to produce their best, to develop to their highest ability, to reach for the stars.  This may mean making some adjustments, for any individual, not just those perceived by the world to have a “disability”.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Let Them Eat Cake! (Unless You Care About Their Wellbeing)

Are you concerned about the health and wellbeing of your employees?  Of course you are!  You are a caring employer and you like your employees to be well and happy at work.  Not to mention that there is a considerable cost to you each time someone is off sick.  If the sickness becomes prolonged – or even stops someone from continuing to work at all, then that is very sad and very difficult to deal with.   And sometimes it is preventable.

Celebration time is here

When birthdays roll around, or other events occur in the lives of your employees, you like to celebrate with them.  The standard celebration is for them or their colleagues to provide cake or chocolates.  Some customer-facing businesses get gifts from grateful clients.  What is easier – or more welcome – than cake or chocolates?  Suppliers, too, like to give their clients gifts from time to time.  Many is the time in the HR department when I have been on the receiving end of chocolates or cakes from an employment agency. Or a grateful employee buys cake as a thank you for the support HR had provided.  Some managers like to provide cake at team meetings.

As the employer or manager, you may even choose to foot the bill for this largesse.  The staff love it and enjoy taking a five minute break to have some cake and a chatter.  They are celebrating and you encourage this to help engender team spirit and good relationships in the workplace.

Sugar – the hidden menace

I love sweet things myself, but the awareness has slowly been dawning on me that too much of it is damaging to my health and wellbeing.  All this cake and chocolate is sabotaging the health of your staff.  Diabetes is a fast-growing problem in our world and our addiction to sugar in our food and drinks is a major contribution to this problem.  Not to mention obesity and related diseases, heart problems, tooth decay – the list goes on.   How many people in your workplace are trying to lose weight?  How many of them “cannot resist” the cake and chocolate which is inevitably on display and available in the working environment?

Stopping the rot

In my own experience, people make their own attempts to counter this influx of sugar, by providing “healthy” snacks as well as cake.  They bring in fruit, nuts, muesli bars  as well as – or even instead of – the cake. The intention is good, but the fruit goes rotten before the cake is all eaten.  The healthy stuff is usually the last to be eaten.  Alternative “healthy” snack bars may also still contain large amounts of sugar (or sweeteners, or corn syrup, or glucose – or other things which are really just sugar in disguise).

Am I suggesting that you ban all sugary foods and drinks, or that you only provide fruit?  No – that would be extraordinarily unpopular, given that this is an addiction to sugar that we all have.  It is good to indulge ourselves occasionally – and make it a real “treat” and a blanket ban would just alienate people.

No, this is a chance to really show your employees that you care, by collaborating with them about a sensible solution to this problem.

Starting the Conversation

Lou Walker, who is a workplace health and wellbeing consultant, specialising in obesity and office cake culture, has  written an in-depth report on this subject.  She has come up with eight ideas to make it easier for employers to start a conversation about office cake.  In brief, they are:

  • Create a health and wellbeing event where it can be on the agenda
  • Use, or consider having, workplace wellbeing champions to introduce the topic with colleagues
  • Start a competition for the most creative, healthy cake alternative
  • Identify individuals and teams who might be amenable to/interested in a conversation
  • Feel confident that this is appropriate. Employee health and wellbeing is your legitimate concern
  • Share Lou’s TEDx talk on the subject and ask for reactions
  • Consider a short, anonymous questionnaire on the subject (confidential, of course)
  • It may take months to implement a conversation – don’t be afraid to start small.

If you are interested in learning more about these suggestions and the subject of office cake in general, then do visit Lou Walker’s website and read her report.

Be part of the conversation.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  -or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Finding The Perfect Recruitment Fit

Many employers tell me that successful recruitment is their biggest challenge.

The reasons they give are many and varied:  the skills they need are in short supply; it costs a fortune to advertise in the right places; there are plenty of candidates but none of them “fit”; people are too young, old, not skilled, over-qualified… the list goes on.

But the problem may lie closer to home.

Many employers forget two very important things.  Firstly, recruitment is a two-way street and the candidate for the job also has a choice.  Secondly, the recruitment process should not stop when the new employee has signed the contract.

Showing your best side

If you were trying to sell your house for the best price possible, then you would spend some time and effort in preparing for the sale.  You might tidy up the garden .  You could increase the “kerb appeal” by a lick of paint on the front door. It makes sense to clean the house and make the beds. You might even go as far as putting fresh flowers on the table, baking some bread or brewing fresh coffee so that there is an enticing smell when people come to view.

But don’t forget that the candidate is also checking your business out to see if they want to work there.  If they are skilled and/or enthusiastic, you are unlikely to be the only person who is interviewing them.  So it makes sense to show your business to its best advantage.  Make sure the candidate is welcomed when they arrive and that they get a friendly reception from everyone they come into contact with.  Give them a chance to see the environment they will be working in and to meet their potential colleagues.  Ensure you explain the role accurately and clearly.   Make sure you spell out the benefits of working for  you.

Preparing for recruitment

You are probably extremely busy and recruiting people takes up a good deal of valuable time.  That is why it is important to get it right, so you don’t have to repeat the process too many times.  A little care could prevent the need.   Take time to prepare properly for the interview.  Make sure you have read the person’s CV and know a little about them.  Remember to use their name – if you need to check how to pronounce it, then ask them at the beginning of the conversation – and listen to their answer, so you get it right from then on!  Make sure you have prepared some questions to ask all the people you are interviewing, so that you can compare their answers to help you choose the best fit.

Beware the trap of over-selling, though.  The candidates need to get a good impression, but it needs to be the right one.  Don’t promise work which exists but you know is going to someone else.  Make sure they get a true picture of what you need them to do for you.  And don’t show them the beautiful new desk in the airy space by the window, if you are going to put them in the tatty old workspace near the gents’ toilet.

Decision time

You need to decide quickly about whether a candidate is right or not.  If you are not sure, then it is probably a “no” and you need to tell them so.  Time is of the essence and it is critical to get the offer of a job out quickly.  Otherwise, your ideal candidate will have got fed up waiting for your decision and accepted another job elsewhere.  Even if you have made a verbal offer and they have accepted it, you still need to get the paperwork out quickly.  It is not unusual for someone to accept a verbal offer and then to start another job in the time it took you to get the written details out to them.

I have often known employers who think that someone they have interviewed “might be OK” but they want to interview a few others before they decide.  They are frightened they will miss out on a “better” candidate.  In my experience, perfection is impossible to find and if someone is “good enough”, then snap them up.  Otherwise, you risk losing out on employing them because you are looking for someone perfect, who probably does not exist.

After the party

How many times have you moved into a lovely new house, only to discover there are rotten floorboards, rats in the loft and a jungle hidden at the bottom of the garden?  OK, perhaps that is an extreme, but you get the point.  In the same way, a new employee will be wondering if they made the right choice.  What if the job is not the one which was advertised and which they wanted to do, but turns out to be something different which they don’t want to do?  If the reality is very difficult from the promise at interview, then they will very quickly move on.  Then you will have to go through the whole process again.

Recruitment is their choice too.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.