Workplace Mediation has long been gathering momentum, becoming increasingly popular amongst UK companies who now use it as an effective way to resolve disputes at work. Mediation can provide solutions which meet the needs of all parties; its cost effective, fast (90% are resolved within one day), avoids disruption, removes the debilitating effects of unresolved conflict and can pave the way for restored workplace relationships.
The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) published their latest Mediation Audit in May 2021. This 2 yearly survey of UK commercial lawyers and mediators, assesses the case numbers, take up of mediation and attitudes towards it.
- Up until September 2020, the number of mediations carried out in England and wales increased by 38% (to 16,500 mediations in the 2020 report, from 12,000 in 2018). The first Audit carried out in 2003 reported just 2000 mediation cases.
- The overall settlement rate was 93%, improving on an already impressive 89% in the 2018 audit, with 73% of cases settling on the mediation day, and the remaining settling as a result of the mediation, shortly afterwards.
- Online mediation has, not surprisingly, jumped during the Covid-19 pandemic. From representing approx 10% of the the total number of mediations before the pandemic, to 89% of all mediation cases between March and September 2020. There is no sure fire data on whether online mediation has impacted the settlement rate. But CEDR’s statistics show an impressive @ 90% settlement rate for online mediations.
So what is Workplace Mediation and how can it solve conflict at work?
What is workplace mediation?
In a workplace mediation the mediator, who is an impartial third party, helps 2 or more staff in dispute to attempt to reach an agreement. Any agreement comes from those in dispute, not from the mediator. The mediator is not there to judge the issue e.g. to say one member of staff is right and the other is wrong, or to tell those involved in the mediation what they should do. The mediator is in charge of the process of seeking to resolve the problem but not the outcome. It is for the staff members in dispute to agree the outcome to resolve the dispute. An agreement settling the dispute is then signed by the members of staff. Workplace mediation is often a voluntary process and all discussions are confidential.
Who can use workplace mediation?
Any employer can use workplace mediation. It is regularly used for resolving conflict involving:
- colleagues of a similar job or grade
- unresolved issues between a line manager and his/her staff
It’s difficult for an HR Director, any Senior Manager or indeed the business owner to be seen as neutral in a mediation. He or she will know the personalities involved and will not be seen as impartial. An external mediator will help show that HR is looking to resolve this dispute without taking sides. The HR Director or Manager also may be involved later in a grievance or disciplinary dispute.
Workplace mediation is not suitable for some situations , for example where a discrimination or whistle–blowing grievance has been raised and it must be investigated. Note that mediation may also not be appropriate for situations that involve sexual harassment which is a serious issue requiring particular handling. For more on this, see our Employer’s guide to handling sexual harassment at work.
When is workplace mediation used?
Common examples of situations where workplace mediation works are:
- personality clashes
- communication breakdowns
- relationship breakdown within a team
- bullying and harassment
- cultural misunderstandings due to different nationalities working in the same workplace
Workplace Mediation can be used before a formal grievance has been identified or after a formal dispute has been resolved to rebuild relationships
The Legal Partners has used workplace mediation for clients very successfully to resolve conflict in the Care, IT and Professional Services sectors in particular. It is very suitable to workplaces where there are communication difficulties within the business and within teams.
What are the benefits of workplace mediation within the business?
Taking a dispute to an Employment Tribunal is now very costly for both employers and employees, and rarely actually resolves the underlying issues that may have caused the initial problem to occur. The Employment Tribunal will give judgement on the employment dispute at the time but will not resolve any underlying workplace situation problems.
Cost savings of using Workplace Mediation
Workplace Mediation can save many organizational costs.
- it avoids formal grievance and appeal proceedings which can consume a lot of HR Directors’ and Senior Management time and resources. It’s important to note that workplace mediation could form part of the Step 1 Informal Action to resolve a grievance. For further details on resolving grievances, see our related article Handling and employee grievance, five key actions
- workers take sickness absence while there is a conflict situation at work which leads to expensive temporary workers needing to be hired
- it can avoid staff turnover and re-recruitment and retraining costs
- it can avoid low staff morale and lower productivity
- it can repair working relationships within teams so they focus on the team and corporate goals
- What are the benefits of workplace mediation undertaken outside of the business?
- Any unnecessary conflict can be bad for PR outside of the business and bad for the morale of the workers who are no longer ambassadors for the business but instead can spread negative PR.
Which organisations already use workplace mediation?
Workplace Mediation is good for the employer and employee, and many major businesses use it:
- Marks & Spencer has been using mediation since 2011 and employees find resolving grievances informally less stressful, more effective and a quicker solution than raising a formal grievance.
- Arcadia Group which has more than 2500 outlets and owns a number of worlds-known high street brands including Topshop and Topman. Arcadia group calculated that in particular grievances between managers and their team members were taking at least 3 weeks to resolve. By using workplace mediation since 2009 Arcadia Group has significantly these types of grievances by 50%.
- The US Postal Service has over 600,000 workers. It uses a REDRESS (Resolve Employment Disputes Reach Equitable Solutions Swiftly) internal mediation service. This workplace mediation service provides a fast, fair, neutral and informal alternative to traditional counselling and grievance procedures. Employees know that they will be making the decisions, are expected to try to understand the other party’s concerns and to look at options for addressing those concerns. Outcomes include settlement, withdrawal of the complaint, or where no agreement is reached, rarely, continuation to formal processes.