Workplace Mediation Advice

By April Harrington.
05 Mar 2021

Like any relationship in life, working relationships can also have conflict in them. It is natural for staff members to have disagreements from time to time.

A certain degree of conflict can be helpful. It injects critical evaluation, potentially leading to improvements. But too much interpersonal tension can damage working relationships.

You can normally resolve this without any formal proceedings, but sometimes there needs to be something more structured. This is where mediation comes in and it can help solve the conflict in a fair way.

Leaving conflicts unresolved, or resolving them unfairly comes at a cost to the organisation, such as the use of managers time, employment tribunals, reduced productivity and increased absence.

Let’s see how you can successfully implement workplace mediation in the workplace and reduce any downtime in productivity.

What is mediation in the workplace?

It is a voluntary process in the workplace used to resolve conflict or disputes. We see it as an informal alternative to a dispute resolution. It allows you to avoid disciplinary procedures and tribunals.

Mediation seeks a quick solution to workplace conflict and you can use it at any point during the dispute, as long as they do not escalate it to a formal procedure.

Mediation is held by a neutral person (a 'mediator'). The mediator is impartial. This means they do not take sides. They’re there to help both parties find a solution that all the parties agree to.

Although the mediator is in charge of the process, any agreement comes from those in dispute. Mediation is also confidential. The mediator will agree with both sides which information can be shared outside the mediation and how.

Because it is not formal, it must be voluntary and confidential. Any attempt to force mediation on an employee will result in and do more harm than good. Though the informality means any agreements made from it are not legally binding.

Benefits of mediation in the workplace

As mentioned, this process allows a company to resolve disputes without resorting to formal proceedings. This allows you to improve morale, as they do it through a collaborative way, as well as avoid potential disciplines.

When done correctly, it can be a cost effective way of dealing with disputes. A skilled mediator will quickly identify key issues and quickly help establish an outcome both sides want to achieve.

Because of the informal nature, it allows the process to be quite flexible, allowing a variety of solutions. This can be informal working agreements or processes, rather than having a formal grievance or disciplinary.

As it is the employees who are dealing with the conflict and undertaking problem solving, it helps participants develop the skills to resolve workplace difficulties for themselves in future.

Employees become more likely to be comfortable with compromise. Because they empathise and understand their fellow employees better through the collaborative process. In the long run, these can help strengthen working relationships instead of damaging them.

When is workplace conflict mediation appropriate, and when is it not?

Mediation is a useful process, but we only recommend using it when it is appropriate. Using it in other scenarios ranges from

It can be helpful where there is a dispute between employees who are both willing to resolve their differences. As mentioned before, it is entirely voluntary, so it only works and can be used with the employee who is engaged in the process.

You can also use it in the early stages of employee grievances or potential disciplines. This helps promote resolutions with no formal action or as a formal follow-up to formal proceedings.

It is a great option to offer when there is a continuing working relationship following a formal grievance or complaint. It will help ensure a good working relationship as formal proceedings focus on consequences rather than rebuilding. 

However, situations involving serious conduct would be an inappropriate time to use mediation. This is too serious to be dealt with through mediation, and you must address it formally.

What happens in a workplace mediation process?

There is no set method of mediation, and mediators can be flexible in how the parties approach it. The only requirement is that you run it through an impartial third party.

They can sit around a table and discuss the issues in an open forum, using the mediator to chair, or the mediator can pass back and forth between the parties and discuss their issues separately.

In mediation, we aim it towards improving working relationships. Mediators will not tell someone they are right or wrong, but look to get employees to look at how they can better work together.

Workplace mediation guidelines

While mediation is a flexible process, there are distinct phases in mediation that need to happen.

Let’s look at how to conduct a mediation session in the workplace and what you need to make a successful mediation.

  1. Opening: the mediator sets out what will happen with the process and establishes any workplace mediation ground rules. They will ask anyone involved to agree to these rules before proceeding.
  2. Statement of problems: this gives each person involved a chance to have their say on why they are here and what their issues are. It is an important beginning of the process as it sets the tone for the parties to listen to each other.
  3. Identification of issues: the mediator sets the agenda for the negotiation by summarising areas of agreement and disagreement. The mediator determines with the parties what issues they will discuss.
  4. Generating solutions: the mediator helps the parties, by brainstorming with them.
  5. Finalise solutions: the parties move toward an agreement by considering the options generated and selecting those most workable and acceptable to each party.
  6. End of mediation: together, they reach an agreement which is recognised by all parties and the mediator. Together they write a clear and detailed agreement based on the mediation.

There are some key workplace mediation tips to remember alongside this process. Namely, that anything said during the mediation is confidential to those who were taking part. We only release information with the party's consent and you can only release it to specified individuals or departments.

A key stage is for the mediator to move the focus away from the past (grievances and experiences) and towards what the parties want to happen now and in the future. So ensure that they implement this in the process to resolve workplace disputes.

Expert support

Whether you’re dealing with disputes at work or need help with a grievance process, speak to one of our expert hr advisers today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

April Harrington.

An experienced Senior Employment Law Consultant, who has worked for the group for over 9 years. April specialises in discrimination legislation. April has an extensive background in training, as well as recruitment and hospitality.

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