Why is it important to consider mediation in the workplace?
More often than not mediation is not the ‘go-to’ route in people’s minds when there are concerns about workplace conflict; perhaps because it is not fully understood or because the alternatives of brushing matters under the carpet or moving straight to formal interventions can seem easier.
This oversight can be a missed opportunity for disputes to be more quickly and amicably resolved, with better outcomes for both the employees involved and the employer.
What is workplace mediation?
Mediation is an effective way to repair relationships where there are disagreements at work, whether it be personality clashes, communication problems or even allegations of bullying and harassment. Mediation can be sought where there are difficulties in a working relationship; whether the staff members involved are of a similar job or grade, or different jobs and levels of seniority.
A mediator creates a confidential safe space and facilitates conversations to explore the issues and re-establish the channels of communication in a productive way.
What are the benefits of workplace mediation?
There are many potential benefits to workplace mediation, particularly in comparison to the formal alternatives. First and foremost, the parties in dispute are actively involved in finding solutions and positive ways forward that they are agreeable to. This contrasts to a formal grievance process, which can cause irreparable damage to the working relationship and ultimately not reach outcomes that either party is happy with. There is an important choice at play here, between taking ownership of the issue and being part of finding solutions or jumping straight to explaining your version of events to someone outside of the dispute and asking them to decide the best course of action.
There is no sugar coating the fact that mediation can be stressful. Facing a person that you are in a disagreement with and sharing your honest thoughts and feelings about them is uncomfortable, and in fact, avoiding this exact scenario could be part of the reason a dispute has lingered or escalated.
Mediation is however, very quickly over and done with (usually in less than a day), often accompanied by longer lasting, mutually satisfactory outcomes. Alternatively, formal grievances span across a longer time period, with the potential for counter grievances to contend with, as well as colleagues learning the unfiltered version of what the other thinks about them through stark text on a piece of paper.
Mediation attendees frequently feedback that the brief discomfort they felt about facing a difficult conversation, was well worth the end result and that they wish they’d have had the courage to give it a go sooner.
Another advantage of mediation is that it does not preclude the use of formal procedures. Employees have the option to take part and if they find they are not happy with the outcome, they are still within their rights to submit a formal grievance. It is worth noting here that a recommended outcome from a grievance process can often be for mediation to be considered, which begs the question – why not try mediation first?
Acting early and informally in relation to workplace disputes can save substantial direct costs for employers. A successful mediation means that an employer can avoid the time and costs associated with sickness absence, formal processes, legal proceedings, as well as having to replace employees who have resigned or been dismissed as a result the conflict.
Why is it important for managers to know about workplace mediation?
Employees in any level disagreement at work may not know about workplace mediation or see any merit in giving it a go. This can be compounded by Grievance Policies that are heavily weighted on the formal process and only have a cursory mention, if any, of informal alternatives. It is for this reason that mediation needs to be at the forefront of managers’ minds when addressing workplace disputes. It is a manager’s role to tell their employees about the different options that are available to them when it comes to disputes, so employees can make an informed choice.
Having had the benefit of witnessing how both mediations and grievances play out – I often say that if I was the person in a dispute, and I did not know what I now know, I would want someone to take a pause and explain to me the merits and potential outcomes of both the informal and formal options, setting realistic expectations.
For a workplace conflict resolution method that is evidence to be highly successful, mediation is significantly underused, the unsung hero, and in-part it falls on the shoulders of managers to redress the balance.
The message from this article is not that formal procedures are not effective, they of course have their place in addressing employment relations matters. The focus is more that we need to raise the profile of workplace mediation, for employees and managers to recognise the power in this approach, rather than defaulting to the well-trodden path of a formal grievance.