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Workplace mediation: pros and cons

30 May 2012 #Employment


With around 30 years’ experience of dealing with workplace disputes, both as an HR practitioner and then as an employment lawyer,  I have become more and more convinced that workplace mediation does provide a better way to resolve disputes in many cases.

I have seen suggestions that managing and resolving conflict better could solve the current economic recession. Whilst I do believe it has a real value and that it should be more widely used, even I would not quite go this far!

So what are the pros and cons and what are the differences between mediation and other dispute resolution processes?

The main difference between mediation and formal or legal processes is that mediation deals with the underlying emotional aspects of a dispute. In a disciplinary or grievance process the concern is more with the factual issues and coming to some sort of finding or decision. The result of this is that the positions of the parties become ever more entrenched and defensive. In my experience the procedures can often take on a life of their own with grievances being met by counter allegations. Also the outcome may not ultimately satisfy anyone. 

As mediation is conducted by a neutral and independent person and is conducted on a confidential and without prejudice basis, it provides a safe environment in which the real issues can be uncovered and dealt with. This is far more likely to resolve the underlying issues and maintain a working relationship.  These differences are illustrated by the following diagram.

Mediation flow chart

The complete solution?

Although I firmly believe that mediation is a better solution in many situations it is not the right solution in every situation. It would not be appropriate where:-

Where the parties have not agreed to mediation. It is an entirely voluntary process and it is important that individuals willingly participate; indeed this is an important first step in itself.

  • It should not be used as an alternative to line management. Many situations can be better resolved by line managers utilising conflict management skills themselves, even more can be avoided by line managers engaging appropriately with employees in the first place. However where this has broken down and individuals are locked into a conflict situation then a neutral third-party can have a real benefit. 
  • In situations where there is serious or gross misconduct it may be inappropriate to mediate. In such situations there may be a need to deal with matters under formal processes and for others to understand that such behaviours and conduct will not be tolerated.

Conclusion

So whilst mediation is not quite the Holy Grail it is preferable to the formal or legal processes that many of us are more used to in many situations. I can now look back and see many situations where I was involved in litigating disputes when mediation could have been a much better option and clearly should have been considered. Most importantly, had mediation been successful in these situations it would have involved significantly less financial cost to both parties but also less damage to the health and well-being of those involved.

Alison Love
Forbury People Limited Consultant

Forbury People Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of the leading commercial law firm Clarkslegal LLP. Although it is not itself a law firm and does not, therefore, directly provide legal services, it has been set up and is operated in full accordance with the ethical and professional standards of Clarkslegal.’

Forbury People is a leading Human Resource consultancy, with offices in London, Reading and Cardiff.

Although Forbury People offers a wide range of HR services and experience, we pride ourselves in providing support that is business focused throughout. We have an envied depth of consultants in each area of HR but only those with a proven track record at the forefront of business are selected to join our network.

Our consultants are accomplished professionals with many years of experience in human resources. Many have held senior positions in large organisations and multinational companies, while others have vast experience in providing long term consultancy or interim support to a wide range of organisations, in both the private and public sectors.

Forbury People aims to provide the right support for your business at any stage of its life cycle. Our consultants can help identify your current and future support needs and work flexibly, providing direct or virtual support, whatever suits your business at the time.

For a full list of our services, please see HR Services at our website www.forburypeople.com.

To supplement the expertise of our consultants, Forbury People is in a unique position to be able to call upon the services of specialist employment lawyers at our parent company, leading commercial law firm Clarkslegal. Clarkslegal boasts some of the UK’s leading individual employment lawyers, many of whom play key roles in shaping the employment law policies of leading organisations such as the CBI and the International Labour Organisation. Our Consultants have access to a legal telephone helpline from the large employment department of Clarkslegal at no extra cost to the client.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at employmentunit@clarkslegal.com by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.

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