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.

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