UK Workplace Mediation
UK Workplace Mediation
Workplace conflict in the UK is estimated to cost £34 billion per annum. This comes as no surprise when we recognise that the employer/employee relationship in the UK is governed by laws and policies that give rise to a high level of governance that is not found in other walks of life. In addition to this, the workplace is a place where productivity, ambitions, personalities and personal life all convene to disrupt working relationships. Mediation is an effective tool which can provide a safe environment to explore possible outcomes, ease discussions on future changes or simply improve general relations.
Most companies now have access to support from a human resources or legal team, who navigate the complex scenarios that might arise. These range from discrimination claims to employee wrongdoing, through to ill health and a change in personal circumstances. There is no employment contract or disciplinary and grievance policy that can compensate for a timely conversation. Mediation can be integrated into an offering within your firm via your policies, or it can be used ad hoc as an external tool when other avenues are not working. Either way, it can help preserve good employee relations and allow your management to devote their attention to other affairs.
What is workplace mediation?
In its most simple terms, mediation is a confidential conversation between voluntary parties, facilitated by an independent third party, the mediator.
Mediation is always without prejudice, which means each person can open up without worrying about any legal repercussions. The participants, mediator and any observers are all bound to keep the discussions confidential, which ensures an open conversation.
Mediation must be voluntary in order that the participants can decide whether to engage with the process, or withdraw from it when it is underway. This way, an employee will not feel as if they are obligated to attend an internal meeting and the participants should feel free to explore a range of options in mediation that in normal circumstances, they may consider too risky to themselves, or the business.
An important aspect to mediation is that it is down to those in attendance to come up with a solution. Whilst the mediator can guide the process, ask questions and listen to the concerns of each person, they are not there to decide on an outcome.
The mediation process normally starts by asking each of the participants to have an individual meeting with the mediator, so they can explain what has been happening, identify the issues, learn about the mediation process and to think about possible outcomes. This is in advance of the joint meeting. A joint session will normally begin with a mediator revisiting the rules around confidentiality and courtesy – these are usually detailed in the Mediation Agreement document. Each individual will be given equal time to describe their situation or express their concerns. A mediator will guide the discussions to ensure that the meeting is handled fairly and that any options are reality tested. However, it is to be remembered that it is always down to the individuals in attendance to come up with creative solutions that work for all participants.
What if no decision is reached?
A successful mediation may not always end in a settlement agreement or an action plan. If the parties have had the opportunity to consider each others’ point of view and review their own position in a new light this is considered to be a good outcome.
Mediation may not resolve a particularly thorny dispute, or alleviate a particular individual’s concerns but it may achieve the following:
- preserve workforce morale by giving employees a meaningful voice and opening dialogue.
- save business costs by introducing mediation in substitution for protracted human resources support or expensive legal costs.
With legally trained expert mediators who understand the issues in play, mediation can be a route to a sensible discussion. Not every personality clash or workplace misunderstanding should be dealt with under threat of a tribunal!
If a decision is reached?
With no hard and fast rules about what will be the outcome in mediation, a dispute may end in a re-instatement, settlement or any number of action points. If an employee leaves employment following mediation, subject to express consent, the session notes can form the basis of a settlement agreement. Legal advice should always be sought on the final draft, but the considerable expense of negotiation can be avoided.
Mediation is a ‘win win’
If the mediation breaks down, or ends with no agreement, the business and employee have lost nothing. By comparing average costs of a 3-day mediation (factoring in a day to prepare, a day in discussion and a day to follow up) with the cost of using a legal team over an average of 10 to 12 days, or 32 days of human resources case management; it is clear that mediation can save money.
ACAS has identified that the highest cause of conflict in the workplace is caused by a conflict of egos and personalities (49%). In these cases, an impartial mediator may be invaluable. Mediation does not replace essential workplace policies and procedures, or seek to replace legal expertise in potentially serious legal claims. However, mediation is a practical aide to resolving disputes; avoiding escalation and facilitating difficult conversations in the workplace.
Want to know more about workplace mediation?
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Frequently Asked Questions
What happens in workplace mediation?
A trained workplace mediator will facilitate a meeting between the participants who are in the dispute to help them find a resolution. The mediator is always impartial and will remain neutral throughout the process.
Can you refuse mediation at work?
Workplace mediation is always voluntary, so no one can make you attend mediation, as this would go against the core principles of mediation. When considering mediation, it is important to remember that the process is confidential.
Can my employer force me to do mediation?
You may be encouraged to attend workplace mediation by your employer, but at the end of the day it is always your decision. However, if your case goes to a tribunal, you may have to explain your reasons for not attending.
Can you take notes in mediation?
Mediation is a confidential process. The confidential nature of mediation allows people to speak freely and openly about issues without fear of it being used in a tribunal later. The mediator will usually not take notes and it will be requested that participants do not make any sort of recording of the session, but to the confidential nature of mediation.
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