Workplace Mediation UK
If you’re constantly being undermined by the boss, feel shaky with anxiety about low-grade sniping by colleagues in the office, or discover that a colleague has been stabbing you in the back, then you’re experiencing a level of workplace conflict that’s likely to result in long-term misery and frustration at best, or an industrial tribunal at worst.
In between the two extremes, it’s not uncommon to find one, or all, of the following: panic attacks, depression, sickness absence, retaliatory action that inflames the situation, performance reviews, disciplinary measures and sacking.
Workplace mediation, however, is a potential solution. It’s an approach that’s gaining currency with human resources departments, even though it can initially feel terrifying, particularly for junior members of staff.
For a manager who agrees to go to mediation because of a conflict that’s arisen in his or her department, there can additionally be an uncomfortable feeling of failure at their own inability to find a solution.
The motivation to invest in an outside consultant’s expertise often comes from an enlightened HR manager’s awareness of what the process can achieve through their past experience…
This is bolstered by the knowledge that the alternatives can get very expensive. There’s inevitably a loss of team morale and productivity while the warring parties are at each others’ throats, and, if someone resigns, there’s the cost of recruitment. If a case does end up at tribunal, there are potentially massive legal bills and any financial award to be found.
Mediation always ought to be a consideration if you can see a complaint coming…
Indeed, the old statutory three-step grievance procedure (statement of grievance, meeting, appeal meeting) has been repealed. Employment legislation gives statutory force to a code of “best practice” set out by Acas, the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service, which includes guidance advocating mediation.
Penalties for not following the code includes a 25% uplift on any award given at any subsequent tribunal.
Employers can’t be forced to implement mediation, because it has to be a voluntary process, but if an employer unreasonably refuses to instigate a mediation when one is requested, a tribunal might well take a rather dim view.
Although, at first, employees can be sceptical and resistant, people, generally speaking, do want to get things sorted out and to bring a difficult situation to an end. They realise, even if subconsciously, that ongoing unresolved conflict is not good for them.
It is a tenet of mediation that the entire process stays confidential – neither managers or the HR department get a report from the mediator, and there is no obligation on participants to disclose any part of what has taken place.
There are different ways of running a session but, typically, when the two sides come together each will be given time at the start to let rip about what has occurred.
It typically gets very emotional she says. We encourage them to lay out as much as they can about their feelings and what is prompting their own behaviour. In even five or 10 minutes, you can get a lot of stuff out, and then there’s a palpable sense of relief.
Anger is a cover-all emotion. It always comes from something underneath – hurt, for example.. What we’re trying to do is enable people to express that underlying emotion, because that often leads to a breakthrough.
We impose an absolute rule that there should be no interrupting, and that each person gets equal airtime. It means each person has to really listen, often for the first time.
At this point, a mediator will try to move the situation forward. Ideas are sought from the participants, and often a written “contract” or agreement is drawn up.
Both sides will have to make concessions and then, working together, create their own ground rules. These should be clear, simple and easy to monitor.
Mediation, can be transformational if participants enter into the process with openness and courage. It can be hard to face up to one’s own responsibility for creating a conflict, and having an outsider come in to facilitate a solution brings better results.
Mediation isn’t a magic wand, however, and it won’t always resolve a conflict to the satisfaction of both parties. But it is worth a try!
HR Consultants and Workplace Mediators UK