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What is mediation?

Mediation is an informal way of resolving disagreements or disputes, involving a (often neutral) third person working with those in dispute to help them reach an agreement,  Its is confidential and voluntary and can avoid the need to use more formal or legal procedures.

People are the key to organisational success and productivity, and negative conflict between individuals or groups of individuals can severely hamper an organisation’s drive for competitive advantage and damage employee well-being resulting in 2011–12 seeing 186,300 employment tribunal claims (MOJ 2012).  Nowadays people are now more aware of their rights at work. They also have an expanded legal framework meaning that if employers do not manage conflict effectively, the consequences quickly escalate to become more serious.  Mediation is a route to resolving these disputes fast.

Brief background to mediation

Mediation is a practice that goes back to ancient Greece however, let’s be practical……following the Gibbons review of employment dispute resolution in 2007 pilots were established around the country and in 2011 the Government consulted (perhaps with the intention of lowering the legal bill) and announced in ‘Resolving Workplace Disputes’ their intention to ’embark on a long-term reform programme to build a new approach to resolving workplace disputes so that the use of mediation to resolve disputes becomes a more accepted and trusted part of the process’ 

Benefits of a resolution based approach

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recommends employers to adopt a resolution policy that includes mediation as a key plank so that can also help transition from a ‘grievance culture’ to a ‘resolution culture’ by:

  1. Linking dispute resolution with the organisations’ values and visions.
  2. Offering a new name and a new focus for dispute resolution.
  3. Combining grievance, bullying and harassment policies into a single Resolution Policy.
  4. Supporting return to work procedures following absence or suspension.
  5. Making mediation available at each and every stage, even where cases have been escalated to formal actions therefore offering greater flexibility to all parties.
  6. Continuing to provide more serious disputes and cases where there is a clear breach of a code of conduct the opportunity to escalate to an investigation or other formal action.

As the CIPD points out  “early intervention can prevent both sides from becoming entrenched and turning into a full-blown dispute.  Furthermore, that “employment tribunals do not resolve systemic problems at work that may underlie an individual dispute. Mediation is more likely to enable the employer to get beneath the problem and make changes to working practices that can benefit employees and the organisation more generally in the long term.”

Don’t take my word for it; the evidence based support for mediation

In 2008, Acas commissioned GfK NOP to carry out a telephone interview survey of managers in 500 SMEs to assess their experience of mediation; of those that had used mediation, almost half said that the last mediation had resolved the issues completely (49%) and more than four in five (82%) said it had resolved the issues either completely or partly

Policy-makers and organisations are increasingly recognising that mediation is an effective form of alternative disputes resolution (ADR).  In their research ‘Win-Win: A study into the role and impact of workplace mediation within Local Government’  (2014)  the Professional Mediators’ Association (PMA) say some 93.9% of local government organisations use mediation to resolve disputes.

Some three-quarters of local authorities feature mediation in their grievance procedures and that some of those which do not are considering updating their procedure to include mediation, it is easy to conclude that mediation plays a central role within local authorities’ grievance procedures.

Typically the obstacles standing in their way to using mediation are lack of awareness and no budget.  However the PMA suggests that managers, HR professionals Unions and members are subscribing to the principles and the practices of mediation cost efficiency becomes readily identifiable’ and evidence of how the prevention of escalating into expensive formal dispute resolution procedures outweigh traditional grievance procedures. 

Research commissioned by Acas found that:

  1. The introduction of in-house mediation can have a transformative effect on workplace relations and underpin a new (and more informal) approach in the way that conflict is managed (Saundry et al 2011).
  2. New skills acquired by mediators influenced their everyday practice and gave them new ways of managing conflict in a wide range of settings (Saundry and Wibberley 2012).

In about 80% of mediations undertaken by Acas, an agreement is reached.

Last words

With mediation being one of the few forms of dispute resolution that encourages real dialogue between disputing parties and one which allows parties to create their own solutions to their issues,a ‘win-win’ outcome is achievable it is also significantly far cheaper than litigation.  Can you afford not to mediate?

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