Mediation in the workplace
Traditional methods of dispute resolution can be both costly and time-consuming. Here, Caroline McEnery of The HR Suite outlines how mediation is an effective alternative that can allow all parties involved to agree on a productive way forwards
17 August 2016 | 0
Mediation is defined by The Mediators’ Institute of Ireland as “a process in which an impartial and independent third party facilitates communication and negotiation and promotes voluntary decision-making by the parties to a dispute to assist them in reaching a mutually acceptable solution”. Essentially, it is an effective method for resolving workplace disputes.
These disputes may involve difficulties between management and staff or between individual employees. The process of mediation can be very effective for many types of disputes, particularly in relation to complaints of bullying and harassment, and has become an increasingly popular alternative to the formal investigation process in recent years.
The principles of mediation
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 agrees on ways of future interaction and behaviour. The most important principles of mediation are:
The voluntary commitment of both parties is essential for the mediation’s success – both parties are free to leave the process at any time, at which stage the mediation will end. Both parties are then free to use the other dispute resolution options available to them if they wish.
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.
Discussions during the mediation process and any agreements remain confidential at all times unless both parties agree otherwise.
The process of mediation
Mediation is most effective when used as early as possible before the conflict becomes too entrenched. There are two main stages in the mediation process.
The first stage 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 it. 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 coach the parties through the process. If the parties reach agreement, a ‘Mediated Agreement’ document will be drawn up which will outline in detail all points which have been agreed by the two parties. The content of the agreement is created and agreed only by the parties themselves, not the mediator. This document will be signed by both parties and remains confidential unless both parties request otherwise.
The benefits of mediation
There are many benefits of using mediation for resolving disputes, including the following:
- Companies are now recognising mediation as a faster, cheaper alternative to the traditional methods of dispute resolution.
- Parties are allowed to have ownership of the resolution process.
- The parties take responsibility for the development and implementation of their own agreement – this increases the parties’ 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 due to the stress they face in the workplace.
- The process increases 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 – this leads to better relationships between the parties in the long term.
Caroline McEnery is a trained mediator accredited with the Mediators Institute of Ireland. If you would like more information about using mediation in your workplace, please do not hesitate to contact Caroline or one of the team on 0667102887.