Mediation – the value-add tool for the workplace

National mediation week is a great time to remind us of the benefits of mediation in the workplace. During times of economic uncertainty and business downturns the spotlight is often turned on to HR departments. This can be because questions about how value is being added can start to be asked. HR professionals have had to live with this for years.

The legislative measures are based on the Employment Act 2008. The Act paved the way for the Acas statutory Code of Practice on discipline and grievance, which sets out the principles that employers and employees should follow when dealing with disputes at work.

The foreword to the Code highlights that employers and employees should always seek to resolve disciplinary and grievance issues informally. However, where an issue cannot be resolved informally, then it may be pursued formally. According to the Code, employers and employees should behave fairly and reasonably when taking formal action to resolve their dispute.

What does this mean for HR and Business?

This is great news. The CIPD recently published research that put the cost of conflict in UK organisations at £24bn per year. Other research also puts the average time line managers spend dealing with conflict related matters as 24%. This is wasted resources. Do the maths for yourself. Take the number of middle and senior managers in your organisation, add up their base salaries, and calculate 24% of the total. You have just done a quick analysis of what conflict might be costing your company. In an organisation with three-hundred line managers with each earning a base salary of £50,000 this would equate to just under £4m. this represents a robust business case. Of course, I understand that there are always permutations. It could be a higher or lower figure. You might also use total remuneration as a baseline figure. Whatever the formula, conflict costs money.

 What is mediation?

The Acas Code states: ‘Where it is not possible to resolve disciplinary and grievance issues in the workplace employers and employees should consider using an independent third party to help resolve the problem. In some cases, an external mediator might be appropriate’.

Mediation has been practised in the UK for the last 30 years. It is a future focussed process that is less concerned about who might be right or wrong. It is more concerned about solving problems so that they don’t occur again. In mediation responsibility for finding a workable solution for the dispute rests firmly with the parties. Areas such as civil, commercial and community were the first to explore how mediation could be applied within their perspective specialisms. The pace with workplace mediation begun to pick up by around 2010. Now, workplace mediation is much more well-known and used to different levels across most places of work. Part of the reason for mediation in the workplace taking a little time to become a main stream tool was because of the need to persuade business leaders of its real potential to add value.

The five main planks on which mediation is based are:

  • It is voluntary
  • It is confidential
  • It is without prejudice
  • The mediator is neutral and impartial
  • It is non-binding (until agreement has been reached)

One of the strengths of the mediation processes that it can be applied to individual, team, departmental, functional or organisational disputes. It is pragmatic enough to be able to address some of the most contentious issues affecting todays workforce such as stress and mental health factors. A further strength of mediation is that it is quick. For example, disputes that have been rumbling on for years can often be resolved in one day through mediation. In the UK, mediation has a success rate of 93%

What should you do now?

HR functions can now present an argument for embracing a preventative and remedial HR strategy with increased confidence. The spirit of the review that led to the change in legislation was that organisations should think differently about how relationships in the workplace are managed. Now would be a good time to re-look at line management training in people management skills. Interventions such as these will help prevent issues of conflict surfacing at a later date.

For your organisation to also benefit from engaging with conflict resolution principles here are five steps I recommend that you follow.

  1. Consider training some colleagues to become accredited mediators. This could be done on an in-house basis. To find out more about this visit
  2. Partner with an external mediation provider. This will ensure that in cases where there may be a conflict of interest to appoint an internal mediator you can call on the services of an external organisation
  3. Review your organisations policies and procedures to incorporate clauses that promote and encourage early resolution of disputes and mediation
  4. Review other parts of the HR framework. For example, consider offering training for line manages on topics such as ‘how to manage difficult conversations’ and equality/diversity training
  5. Link any success from mediation back to the business case. Identify savings made and ensure the benefits of mediation are publicised within the business.

Written by Ellie MacKenzie

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