Workplace mediation involves a third, neutral party bringing two disputing individuals (or groups) together in order to reach an agreement that satisfies both sides.This type of dispute resolution is gaining credibility as an alternative to court/formal proceedings.
As many of us know, clashes in the workplace can be extremely disruptive – not just to those directly involved but to bystanders also. Conflicts can arise for multiple reasons – for example, they can be as a result of a dispute over performance or something as simple as a personality clash. Conflict can severely impede an organisation’s ability to run efficiently and can damage employee well-being. It can cause stress, anxiety and depression. Conflict can increase employee turnover and can negatively influence reputation in the industry as well as delaying the Company’s achievement of its corporate goals.
Another negative consequence of a dispute in the workplace is a decrease in productivity levels. Similarly, morale within the Company can be influenced in a negative manner as a result of work-related disputes and levels of employee absence can also increase. It is clear that workplace disputes can have extensive side effects.
In an effort to resolve matters, parties are regularly forced to attend Employment Appeals Tribunal/Labour Court proceedings. However, this is not always the best course of action as these processes can often lead to a complete breakdown in relationships and can prove to be extremely lengthy and costly.
In fact, these methods can often aggravate matters as, typically, only one party is satisfied with the conclusion and resources, including time and finances, have often been significantly drained throughout the process.
In some instances, mediation can be an acceptable alternative to court proceedings when disputes arise in the workplace. Mediation is a confidential process where parties are encouraged to discuss all elements of the dispute without fear that their legal position could be compromised or prejudiced. Mediation can encourage a more swift resolution of differences and aims to find a solution that satisfies all parties while avoiding the types of adversarial procedures that have become very common in this era of increased employee litigation. Efficient working relationships can often be restored through the practice of mediation.
Mediation is an informal approach to dispute resolution. It can be used in an attempt to resolve a vast range of differences. Mediation is most effective when introduced at the initial phase of disagreements, however, it can also be availed of later in the process – after Tribunal proceedings have concluded, for instance. At this stage mediation could assist in repairing the relationship between the parties that have been in conflict.
Mediation is where an unbiased facilitator assists the two parties to a dispute in reaching an agreement. The purpose of a skilled mediator is to encourage the parties to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution. The role of this neutral third party is not to judge or to determine who is at fault but, instead, he or she is there to enable the meaningful exchange of information between parties with an ultimate goal of resolving their conflict. The mediator should not determine the outcome – this should come from the disputing parties. Mediation is morally binding but normally does not carry any legal status. There is usually one mediator or two co-mediators.
One significant advantage of mediation is that it tends to be less of a financial burden when compared to formal proceedings. Both parties to a dispute are encouraged to talk very honestly and openly during the process and, as a consequence of that, mediation can assist in the discovery and resolution of the root cause of the conflict that exists in the workplace and can prevent the same situation from arising in the future. This is less likely to be the case in a Tribunal type scenario.
Mediation is not always a suitable dispute resolution method, however, if it is determined that it is appropriate then it can involve either an internal scheme or an external provider. Internal schemes mainly exist in larger organisations.
During mediation the neutral mediator chairs the process which helps to dispel tension that may have built up between disputing parties. It is vital that levels of tension in the workplace are minimal especially where the parties are expected to continue to work together. The process can take an entire day or more. Either way the process is far less time consuming than going through the courts.
Mediation is beneficial because it is a voluntary non-confrontational process – both parties will be more likely to co-operate as neither is obliged to be involved in the process.
The stages of mediation are as follows:
- Normally, both parties meet with the mediator separately initially so that the procedure can be discussed and so each party has the opportunity to illustrate their ideal outcome.
- Usually a joint meeting is then scheduled in order that the issues may be heard.
- Next, the issues are explored and an agreement is drawn up. The mediator will support the parties in solving their problems and will assist in ensuring that the agreements are workable. If he or she feels that it is necessary, the skilled mediator will separate the parties and will deal with them individually at various points.
- The last stage in the process includes the explanation of responsibilities and the distribution of a copy of the agreement to all involved.
Sometimes, unfortunately, no agreement is reached. If this is the case then nothing that has been discussed throughout the mediation process may be used in any future proceeding should they take place.