Workplace Mediation

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It’s true. Without the need for witchcraft and voodoo you too can have a happy workforce.

“How?” I hear you cry disbelievingly… workplace mediation is the answer, simples.

I’m writing this as a lawyer and a mediator and whilst there is most certainly a time and a place for an employee or employer to have their chance to say “I’ll see you in court” (come on, everyone should get to say it at least once in their life) there is also an increasingly large space for mediation too.

There is of course no greater waste of time than arguing, although brooding is certainly a very close second.

The fact is that over the past few years we have seen mediation sliding its way into all areas of life from family breakdowns and civil disputes to tackling bulling in schools. And that’s because mediation really works, but don’t just take my word for it, there is actual evidence too.

The cost of workplace conflict can be extremely high – an estimated annual £33bn to UK businesses according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Its also a drain on precious time, taking up 20% of leadership time and resulting in 370 million lost days. But the effects of workplace disputes are more wide ranging than just that, these unresolved conflicts can also:

  • undermine effectiveness and productivity
  • increased sickness absence
  • destabilise teams and create depressing workplaces with poor employee engagement
  • drain goodwill

the list goes on…..

But mediation is now being used to speedily and effectively resolve workplace disputes. Here’s that evidence I mentioned, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development have found that almost 60% of companies using mediation see a significant reduction in formal grievances overall and a reduction of employment tribunal claims by almost 50%. How good is that? And ACAS have gone on to say that mediation has a positive effect in over 90% of cases.

And how does it work? The trained mediator will facilitate those difficult conversations between people that are causing such a block in the workplace with a view to reaching a constructive, mutually agreed outcome. The key idea is that the parties have ownership of the outcome and therefore take greater personal responsibility in making it work. The mediator will not judge. It is a safe and non-confrontational method of resolution, and it is of course far more cost effective than litigation. In any event, John Cridland, CBI Director-General said “The current system of employment tribunals is broken” with two thirds of employers believing that “there is no effective protection for employers against wholly unjustifiable claims”. Why would you want to use something that’s broken?

It’s really catching on to with businesses such as the Arcadia Group and BT explaining how workplace mediation has not only resolved their workplace issues but also saved them money. And none of us can turn our noses up at those prospects at the moment. Arcadia reported that mediation had an 85% success rate and had halved costs for the company as the process took six and a half hours rather than the average nine days of administration and management time spent on a typical grievance issue. Similarly BT have said that mediation resolved nearly 90% of workplace disputes that would have otherwise been progressed as a formal grievance. This resulted in a 34% reduction in grievance costs within the first four months. This would suggest that cost being the key reason as to why employers don’t use mediation is perhaps a tad misplaced?