Workplace mediation explained.
Published 11 April 2023
Any workplace dispute can quickly spiral out of control with disastrous consequences, so the suggestion to discuss the problem first to prevent it happening is one worth taking a much closer look at.
In any disagreement or bust-up, emotion can get the better of anyone, a stance can be taken on principle or with a determination to want to teach someone a lesson, and it can make things much, much worse.
It can happen in work as a result of feeling picked on or bullied by management or following a disagreement with a colleague.
An effective, swift and beneficial way to deal with such a situation is workplace mediation [1 cited 11.4.23]
It is often faster and less stressful than going through formal procedures, but it can also be used to ensure there are no ongoing problems after a formal procedure, and it can help to preserve relationships between parties.
Workplace mediation is a voluntary process, and both parties must agree to participate in good faith for it to be successful.
What is it, how does it work, can it really work for me, is it right for me? Are all obvious questions anyone involved in a workplace disagreement are likely to ask.
The old fashioned idea of a manager simply bringing two warring parties together and ‘banging their heads together’ to sort out a problem, is unlikely to always produce the best results [ 2 cited 11.4.23]
Bad mediation can make a bad situation worse.
So what is workplace mediation?
It is a process in which an impartial third party, known as a mediator, works with employees to attempt to find a mutually agreeable resolution to a workplace dispute or conflict [3 cited 11.4.23]
Mediation can be utilised and effective to sort out issues, such as work-related conflicts, misunderstandings, communication breakdowns or disputes over working conditions and policies.
It can essentially be considered, and possibly used, to resolve many issues that lead a worker to raise a formal grievance, which is a concern, complaint or problem they may have [4 cited 11.4.23]
Mediation is designed to help all parties to understand each other’s perspectives, needs, and concerns, with the aim to get them to work together to find an agreeable, suitable and workable resolution.
It provides an opportunity and environment in which employees involved can express their views and feelings without fear of reprisal.
The meeting is overseen by a mediator who will listen to each person’s viewpoint, ask appropriate questions to clarify issues and assist those involved to find common ground and reach a positive outcome.
The mediator’s role is not to dictate the solution, as their aim is to attempt to make it possible for those involved to reach an agreement.
Situations in which workplace mediation may work for you.
Here are a few examples of when workplace mediation can be used:
Conflict between employees: Disagreement between members of staff is almost inevitable in most workplaces and it can impact negatively on productivity and team morale. Mediation can be a good way of restoring positive working relationships.
Communication breakdown: How things are said in the workplace, what they are taken to mean and the impact of what is said can create problems. A communication breakdown can occur between management and an employee or between workers, and workplace mediation can help to identify the underlying issues and develop a plan for improving communication.
Performance management: Work performance can drop-off for any number of reasons. Sometimes when an employee is not performing as required, mediation can help to identify the root cause of the problem and develop a plan for improvement that can help to preserve the working relationship.
Harassment or discrimination: Mediation can sometimes prove effective in resolving the most serious workplace problems. It can be a workable solution in cases of harassment and discrimination if all parties agree to it.
Can any manager act as a mediator?
They can, but being a good and effective mediator requires specialised knowledge, training and skills.
Essential skills needed for mediating workplace conflicts include active listening and the ability to pay complete attention to what someone is saying; good communication in knowing when to listen and when to intervene; creative and analytical thinking to identify possible solutions to challenging situations; emotional intelligence and the capacity to understand other people’s viewpoints; and being able to remain neutral and impartial.
There are many organisations that provide specialist training and qualifications for workplace mediators to help resolve a dispute.
All businesses regardless of size can use an external mediator, such as ACAS mediators who are independent and impartial and work with everyone involved in a disagreement [5 cited 11.4.23 ].
n 2019 to 2020 it is reported that 76 per cent of ACAS-led mediations were fully or partially resolved.
Typical steps involved in workplace mediation.
Preparation: The mediator should meet with those involved beforehand in order to gain an understanding of the problem and issues. This will also allow them to gather relevant information and to fully explain how the process will work and answer any questions any party may have about the process.
Mediation meeting: Overseen by the mediator who will bring the parties together, explain the process and set ground rules for the meeting. It will be a constructive environment in which all of those involved should get the chance to explain their position and air their concerns. The mediator will work with the parties to identify the issues that need to be addressed.
Negotiation: It is highly unlikely, and rare, that the issues will be straightforward, so the mediator will work with the employees taking part to find common ground and develop a olution that is agreeable to the participants. Different options can be discussed and explored to find a workable resolution that is fair to all.
Agreement: If an agreement is reached, the mediator will encourage those involved to keep a record of what has been agreed, so everyone is clear on what is expected moving forward. The mediator will explain each person’s responsibilities for making the agreement work.
Is workplace mediation guaranteed to work?
No, it does not always work and although it can often be effective it is not a guaranteed solution in all cases.
Whether or not mediation works can be determined by factors such as the willingness of the parties to take part in the process, the severity and complexity of the dispute, and the skills and experience of the mediator.
There can, undoubtedly, be situations in which mediation may not be appropriate or work. The parties may not want to participate, the dispute may be too severe or those involved cannot reach s suitable resolution.
Mediation is a voluntary process, and both parties must believe in it and be willing to participate in good faith for it to be successful.
What can happen if workplace mediation goes wrong?
It can impact negatively on both employer and employee. The dispute could escalate, it could cause irreparable damage to the working relationship and lead to legal action.
Workplace mediation is generally a safe and effective way to resolve work-related disputes, but like any process it is not without risks.
To avoid any such risks, the mediator should be qualified, neutral, impartial and have the necessary skills and experience to manage the specific issues involved in the dispute.
Clear guidelines and expectations for the mediation process should be established and all parties should be willing to take part in good faith.
If workplace mediation is not successful, it may be necessary to explore other options to resolve the dispute.