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Workplace Mediation: The Definitive Guide



man and woman wearing black suits shaking hands

This comprehensive guide is for a professional or a business manager, who is hired to oversee, support the company or the organisation and its employees in conflict resolution as a part of promoting best practices through mediation in the workplace. Don't worry there are also some useful takeaways if you are an employee.


So if you’re looking to understand how workplace mediation can be a very effective and beneficial way to resolving disputes or difficulties at work, I hope this guide will help you to move forward in your decision making process as a best practice go to guide for workplace dispute resolution.


In this comprehensive guide I’ll cover:


  • What is workplace dispute resolution?

  • What to expect from workplace mediation?

  • What are the advantages of having mediation in the workplace


So, lets dive in

Chapter 1

What is workplace mediation?


Mediation in the workplace is an avenue for resolving conflict or difficulties. It is a process which is confidential, and it is where employees or group of employees’ voluntary come together to participate and have the ability for each to have their voices heard. The employees get to be part of the collaborative problem-solving process to resolve a conflict, with an independent, unbiased party called a Mediator. The Mediator is there to support and to manage the process.


On the spectrum Mediation is one the options of possibilities on the on alternative dispute resolution model



Alternative dispute resolution infographic showing mediation on the

So when you look at the lower end of the spectrum for employees, the resolution can happen between them without any involvement. But when a conflict cannot be resolved on its own, the opportunity to bring in a mediator is introduced. However, if the conflict is not addressed at this point on the spectrum, and employees choose not to have their voices heard or not to participate in a mediation, that’s where the problem or conflict can escalate. The potential for the problem to move higher to litigation becomes greater and now becomes a workplace dispute. The problem then becomes a grievance or a disciplinary or even a employment tribunal matter. Therefore, professionals from the outset should consider whether the case is suitable for mediation. Have a conversation with the mediator about what you are looking to achieve and the outcomes.



Workplace mediation is a time effective, low cost-effective way of resolving conflict and the employees or group of employees in the conflict have a role in the process. Workplace mediation also looks at the ability to maintain and retain a relationship.

Indeed the independent research conducted on behalf of East Lancashire Hospital NHS Trust 2023 discusses how it has developed a more strategic and innovative approach to conflict management with a focus on workplace mediation and highlights the benefits of mediation, such as speed, efficiency, early intervention and the positive impacts on behaviour and attitude.


Chapter 2

What happens in workplace mediation?


Typically, mediation in the workplace will follow a structured process that consists of the following stages:



mediation preparation plan

Preparation


By the time the matter comes to mediation, the parties will be very much entrenched. Workplace mediation will be a confidential way to resolve such conflict before a problem escalates to say a grievance procedure, before a performance review or where an employee threatens to leave.


However, when you have decided that the case is suitable for mediation here are some questions you may be asked by the mediator:


  • What are the emotions of the parties?

  • Are the parties sufficiently psychologically to participate in the mediation process?

  • How will the parties expectations be managed during the mediation process by the organisation?

When the process begins the mediator will meet with all the employees. Each party will be coming in with negative presumptions of each other. There will be a lack of enthusiasm to attend the mediation and they will have their own ideas and agendas. The job of the Mediator is allay any trepidation. At the outset of the mediation:



three people sitting at a mediation table
  • The introductions. The Mediator will start the meeting with a short joint session with the participants to the mediation, by introducing themselves and the parties. The Mediator will explain their role as an impartial one managing the meeting to allowing the parties to communicate effectively about the issues, concerns, needs and interests in the dispute and their respective goals. The Mediator is not there to give advice or make any decisions for the parties. The Mediator will explain that the meeting is an opportunity for collective thinking to resolve the problems of the conflict. The introductions will set the tone for the mediation process.


hand pointing towards information

  • The Ground Rules for the day will be established. The strict confidentiality of the mediation will be reaffirmed, respect for each other, to talk honestly and constructively. It will also be important for the parties to understand that entering mediation is voluntary and that they can withdraw at anytime.


a person reading a statement
  • Opening Statements. The mediator will ask each party to make an Opening Statement. The purpose of the opening presentations is an opportunity for each party to be given uninterrupted speaking time to present their concerns and issues of the case. It will allow the mediator to assess how far apart the parties are on the issues.


one to one individual meetings with mediator
  • One to one Private Sessions. The mediator will conduct a series of individual private sessions with each party, seeking to learn more about each party's expectations and to test the party’s case as to the strengths and weaknesses of their case. It is important to note that these separate conversations remain confidential and nothing in these meetings will be passed to the other party by the Mediator without each party’s specific authority for the mediator to do so. The mediator will then explain to each party how the private sessions can help facilitate this.


a magnifying mirror analysing information
  • Exploring. The mediator will also explain that the parties can be free to discuss and explore issues and solutions without it being used against them. The whole object is to brainstorm together as to how best to fix the problem.


signed mediation agreement
  • Agreements. During the course of the Mediation meeting the Mediator will be continuously going back and forth and will seek to explore the possibility of moving towards smart action plan solutions that would work with the parties. This agreement will outline the terms of the resolution and will be signed by all parties



smiley faces feedback tool

  • The follow up. Implementing the action plan is key. The employees commit to the changes. Sometimes they will need support to make it happen. This could include a further review with the mediator after 6 weeks to 2 months or a meeting with a manager who can support the parties.


mediation review document

Benefits of workplace mediation


Workplace mediation can offer many benefits for both employers and employees such as:

  • reducing stress

  • keeping valuable employees

  • avoiding more formal processes

  • stopping more grievances being raised

  • avoiding paying high costs

In a report by Professor Richard Saundry and Professor Peter Urwin it estimated that the average cost of conflict to UK organisations costs employers £28.5 billion per year which is equivalent to £1000 per employee. One of the many recommendations the report made for employers and policy makers to manage and resolve workplace disputes effectively is the implementation of access to impartial advice and support to early and informal resolution to enable the reduction of long term negative aspects of workplace conflict.


So there you have it. Now I want to turn it over to you. Take this case study and read our experience in supporting two employees in a workplace conflict within an organisation.

author's picture against a pink background




Winnie Onyekwere

Accredited Mediator LLB LLM


If you require help, we would be happy to provide you with support for your mediation matter. Just connect with me below or if you know someone who might be interested share this with them.




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