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Did you know that workplace conflict costs employers in the UK up to £30 billion a year? ACAS, the UK’s leading adviser for employees and employers in the UK, found that workplace conflict was the largest reason for staff turnover, which is a result of resignations, absence problems and other disputes. Most of which, could be resolved using mediation in the workplace.
The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution completed a survey about workplace mediation in 2021. This survey assessed cases of mediation and people’s attitude towards the process.
They found that:
- The number of mediations in England and Wales has increased significantly in the past 17 years.
- 93% of cases brought to mediation were resolved on the day of mediation, or shortly afterwards.
- Since the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a large uptake of online mediation. This is to help facilitate disputes as more employees continue to work from home.
Employee retention could save businesses millions of pounds per year, so reducing conflict should be a high priority on all business agendas. Workplace conflict causes financial costs, with many costs wasted on training only for employees to leave a short while after, and resignations or dismissals creating staff shortages and pressured workloads. As well as this, poor conflict management lead to staff illness; with stress, anxiety and depression being aggravated by conflict which therefore impacts on productivity levels. Aiming to resolve conflict as soon as issues arise can save bigger problems from arising later on. One method of preventing workplace disputes is to have mediation. This article will explain how mediation is carried out in the workplace, and how it could benefit your workplace.
What is mediation?
Mediation is a type of meeting that is carried out between the parties that are having a dispute, as well as an impartial third party. The impartial third party is crucial in mediation meetings because this is the person that leads the mediation, minimises further conflict, and aims to resolve the conflict.
Mediation can be used at any stage of a conflict, but it is better to use it as soon as any tensions arise. This is because the sooner the conflict is addressed, the higher the chance that a resolution can be found, and at a much faster rate. It is a voluntary process, so it is up to the two parties involved to decide if they want to embark upon it. This means that you cannot force two parties to take up mediation, even if it is a better and easier form of dispute resolution.
Mediation can be used in many settings, formal and informal. It aims to create a safe space for two parties to address their issues, encouraging open and honest communication, with the mediator involved to diffuse aggression and facilitate the communication.
What is workplace mediation?
In the workplace the aim of mediation is to resolve conflict before more formal, and costly, processes need to be enacted. This is why it is often referred to as informal dispute resolution. It aims to avoid triggering processes such as grievance policies, dismissal policies and employment tribunals. However, despite being called an informal conflict resolution process, it still requires a formal approach to ensure that issues are dealt with properly.
At times, conflict can be inevitable in the workplace (especially in larger organisations with more employees). Disagreements can arise between members of staff, employees and employers, or even between management. If resolutions are not resolved quickly in the workplace, it can soon lead to negative impacts on the business.
Allegations of workplace bullying are commonly resolved or are attempted to be addressed by mediation. This is to protect the rights of employees and to remove the issue promptly. Employees are protected from bullying by the Equality Act 2010, which protects employees and employers from unfair treatment that is targeted at them because of a protected characteristic. A large proportion of workplace bullying arises due to victimising a person because of a characteristic, so often workplace policies will include mediation in their policies as a first step to resolve the issue. This information is often included in an employee handbook.
Why would mediation be used?
Mediation is a good choice for conflict resolution because it reduces the need for more formal and costly processes to be initiated. In the workplace, if disputes end up at employment tribunals, it means that courts become involved. Whilst it does not cost anything to go to an employment tribunal, you must pay for your own legal representation. As well as this, preparation for such scenarios takes a considerable amount of time and the process can be stressful for most people.
Mediation is also a preferred tool because it aims to resolve conflict at the earliest possible stage. This means that relationships are more likely to survive, and stress for all parties is reduced. It is a less aggressive form of dispute resolution; by creating an open and safe route for communication it can help people to feel more comfortable discussing what is bothering them. In the end, this can be a more successful route for improving, repairing and maintaining the relationship.
What to consider before using mediation
Before embarking on mediation, you should first consider if mediation is the most suitable form of conflict resolution for your particular situation. At times, mediation may not be suitable. This may be in instances where a crime has been committed, or when the allegation is too serious and requires further escalation immediately.
If you decide to use mediation, you will achieve the most from it if you prepare for it. To achieve the most meaningful resolution, you should be clear on what you desire the outcome to be.
We’ve included some suggestions on what to consider prior to mediation below:
- Identify your desired outcomes – beginning the mediation with a clear goal in place will help you structure your points and have a purpose for your communication.
- Be prepared to negotiate – although you have your goal in place, you cannot expect to have all of your points agreed upon straight away. The other party will have their side of the story and will have their own goals. Being willing to compromise will speed up the process and give you a greater chance of a successful outcome.
- Be realistic with what can be achieved – ensure that your goals are realistic and not unfair on the other party.
- Have a discussion with the mediator prior to the meeting – communicating with the mediator beforehand may help you organise what you have to say and get advice on how to deliver your points.
- Be prepared to see your opposing party face to face – depending on the dispute, this can often be quite challenging. Prepare yourself to talk openly to the other party. Although you may have many emotions, you should aim to communicate in a respectful way.
- Make notes of the areas you would like to cover during the mediation – sometimes when you are in your mediation, you may become nervous or distracted by the other party. To ensure that you get all of your points across you can take a list into the meeting of all the areas that you would like to discuss.
How is mediation carried out?
Mediation is carried out in a meeting format. However, the parties involved can have a discussion with the mediator beforehand, so you receive some support to prepare for the day. By listening to each party separately, the mediator can gain a greater understanding of the dispute which will enable them to manage the communication better.
To keep the meeting informal there is flexibility in how it is carried out. The meeting can be either face to face or online (using software such as MS Teams, Skype or Zoom). Face-to-face meetings can be carried out in the workplace, or in a neutral location which can be chosen by the parties involved. A neutral location can help both parties feel more at ease going into the meeting.
What are the stages in mediation?
Although the mediation process is informal, there are some stages that are generally followed which are:
- Planning – if you decide to embark on mediation, you should take some time to plan before your meeting. This is so that you cover all of your points, and your mediator can gain an idea of your dispute which will enable a more meaningful mediation.
- Mediator introduction – you should talk to your mediator prior to your meeting. This can be either by email, telephone or face to face. The purpose of this is to explain your dispute to the mediator so that they can gain an understanding of the issues. This will help them to better mediate the meeting. Both parties should talk to the mediator prior to the meeting.
- Opening remarks – the opening remarks of a mediation meeting should be factual. This is to keep the meeting a neutral space for both parties to share, as well as share each party’s interests and objectives.
- Discussion – this is the part of mediation where each party shares their views about the issue. This can be a time when emotions run high, so the mediator facilitates the conversation to prevent the problems from escalating further, and to draw out solutions from both parties.
- Separate mediation – if emotions do run high, the mediator can step in and put a halt to the meeting. They can separate each party into different rooms, or call separate meetings. This does not mean that mediation can’t continue; rather it can take place with each party communicating separately.
- Negotiation – once everybody has spoken, it is time to negotiate to find a resolution. Once a resolution has been found, it should be written up straight away and forwarded to each party. If a resolution is not found, the communication should still be recorded, as this may help a future settlement.
Who carries out mediation?
Mediation should be carried out by an impartial third party so that the process remains fair for both sides. The mediator should be specifically trained to diffuse situations of tension, as well as trained to facilitate open and honest discussions. This training is required so that the mediator can manage the situation, as well as help parties to reach an agreement on the dispute.
There are many external mediator businesses that can be contracted to work through a dispute. However, whilst a mediator should always be a third party, it does not mean that it has to be a stranger, external to your organisation. Businesses can also have their own in-house mediator that remains as a third party in the organisation to step in to resolve disputes.
Although it is the mediator that runs the meeting, it is the two parties involved that must find the resolution and agreement. The mediator should always remain impartial during discussions. When both parties are happy, the mediation has been a success.
Who can use mediation?
There are many scenarios and many different people that can use mediation. Some examples of this are:
- Workplace bullying.
- Workplace conflict – this can be for employees of the same grade or different grades, and disputes between employees and management, or even between managers.
- Employees reacting to a policy which they find unfair.
- Workplace accidents.
- Disputes over earnings.
As well as in the workplace, mediation can be used in many other areas of life such as:
- Resolving family disputes – these can be between parents, siblings, and parents and children.
- Landlord and tenant disputes.
- Neighbour disputes.
- Intellectual property disputes.
- Defamation disputes.
- Professional negligence.
- Financial disputes – these can be personal or professional disputes
- Will and probate disputes.
- Land and property disputes.
- Personal injury disputes.
What are the benefits of mediation in the workplace?
Mediation is a beneficial way to resolve conflict. It has many benefits such as:
- Remaining a confidential process.
- Offers flexibility in how the conflict is resolved.
- Remains informal so not too much pressure is placed on each party.
- It can be used at any stage of a dispute.
- It reduces workplace stress.
- It stops formal processes from being initiated.
Using mediation to resolve workplace disputes benefits the business as a whole. This is because it minimises the need for formal and costly procedures to be triggered, whilst reducing any attention being brought to the dispute. Having a happy workforce promotes a strong organisational culture, which therefore promotes a more successful business.