Sorting out workplace disputes before they get out of hand can be done effectively through mediation. Caroline McEnery explains how it’s done
Apr 17 2012
Caroline McEnery, HR & Business Solutions
Mediation is an effective method for resolving workplace disputes. These disputes may involve difficulties between management and staff or between individual employees. Mediation has proved to be very effective for many types of disputes, particularly in relation to complaints of bullying and harassment, and recently has become an increasingly popular alternative to the formal investigation process.
Mediation is a process whereby an independent, neutral mediator assists parties to come to an agreement through collaborative engagement. Mediation helps the parties understand the reasons behind the conflict and find agreed ways of future interaction and behaviour. The most important principles of mediation are that it is conducted on a voluntary basis with impartiality and confidentiality. The voluntary commitment of both parties is essential for the mediation’s success - both parties are free to decide to leave the process at any time, at which stage the mediation will end. Both parties are then free to use other dispute resolution options. The mediator remains impartial at all times and does not take any sides or make judgements – any agreements are made by the parties themselves. Mediation is not about disputing parties blaming each other and it is not about who is right or wrong - it is about understanding what has happened, where things may have gone wrong and agreeing on a way forward. In relation to confidentiality, discussions during the mediation process and any agreements remain confidential at all times.
Two main stages of mediation
Mediation is most effective when used at an early a stage as possible, before the conflict becomes too entrenched. There are two main stages in the mediation process. The first stage of the process is a meeting between the mediator and each party separately. The purpose of this initial meeting is to clarify the parties’ understanding of mediation, confirm their voluntary commitment to the process, and ascertain what each party hopes to achieve by partaking in the process. The mediator will also use this meeting to gain an understanding of the interests and needs of each party, and the underlying reasons for the conflict.
The second stage of the process is a joint meeting between both parties which is facilitated by the mediator. At the joint meeting the mediator’s role is to oversee the process, assist communication between the parties, support them in identifying their issues and needs, and facilitate the parties to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. The mediator provides a process that is safe for both parties and that allows them to communicate their interests and needs to each other. The parties’ role is to collaborate with each other and explore the issues and how they could be addressed in order to find a way forward. At the beginning of the mediation joint session both parties will have the opportunity to set the ground rules by which the meeting will abide (for example, ‘no bad language’). During the mediation, private meetings between the mediator and either party can take place at the request of either party or the mediator. These private meetings are used for clarification, to ask questions, and to assist the parties through the process. If the parties reach agreement, a ‘Mediated Agreement’ document will be drawn up. This document will be signed by both parties and remains confidential unless the parties request otherwise.
Traditional methods of dispute resolution, such as formal investigation or legal action, are time consuming and expensive. The costs include legal fees, reduced productivity, sick pay and decreased team morale. There are many benefits of mediation for resolving disputes. Companies are now recognising mediation as a faster, cheaper alternative to these traditional methods of dispute resolution. Furthermore, the mediation process allows parties to have ownership of the process. Consequently, the parties take responsibility for the development and implementation of their own agreement. This increases their levels of satisfaction with the outcome and leads to more sustainable resolutions. Mediation reduces the risk
of losing good employees who may leave their employment because of the stress they face in the workplace. It builds the skills of parties so that they will be able to handle any future conflict more effectively. Finally, the process allows the parties to maintain dignity and gain respect for each other in a safe environment and therefore leads to better relationships between the parties in the long-term – it is a ‘win-win’ situation for all.
Caroline McEnery of HR & Business Solutions specialises in HR advice for the retail sector. HR & Business Solutions can provide mediation services for any disputes which are causing unrest in your organisation. The company’s mediators are fully trained and certified members of The Mediation Institute of Ireland. For more details on mediation or any other HR guidance, contact Caroline on 087-9694837 or firstname.lastname@example.org.