What is Mediation In the Workplace and When Is It Needed?

When two or more parties in a workplace are experiencing conflict, workplace mediation may be a practical and effective tool to work through the conflict. Within our helpful guide, you’ll find examples of mediation in the workplace and the benefits it can have when used well and in the right situations.

Business & HR Managers
Jan 2023

When two or more parties in a workplace are experiencing conflict, workplace mediation may be a practical and effective tool to work through the conflict.

Mediation in the workplace is known for helping to resolve disputes and rebuild working relationships. But when should it be used? And what are the steps involved in a successful workplace mediation process?

It is important to define that workplace mediation is largely used for interpersonal conflicts. Anything involving serious allegations, misconduct or breaches of workplace rights, outlined in HR policies, may instead require an investigation and possible disciplinary action.

Not all scenarios are appropriate for workplace mediation. If a grievance is more serious, it may be better placed as a workplace investigation. This difference is important to ensure you are managing a situation effectively and with the appropriate gravity. Within our helpful guide, you’ll find examples of mediation in the workplace and the benefits it can have when used well and in the right situations.

Benefits of Mediation In the Workplace

One of the best things about workplace conflict mediation is that it is solution-driven. In fact, a UK study found that 93% of workplace mediations reached a successful settlement. Here are more of the benefits of mediation in the workplace:

It offers an outcome

Even if a mediation process can’t entirely resolve an issue, it’s still likely to offer an outcome and potential next steps to take. If an ‘agreed action’ doesn’t eventuate, each party is still able to be heard and have the opportunity to listen and be listened to by their coworker. Many workplaces avoid this kind of conversation, believing it to be confrontational rather than productive. However, as human-first HR consultants and external workplace mediators, we can assure you that these conversations support an employee and make them feel heard. They improve morale by demonstrating a culture of accountability, care and follow through.

Fair and confidential

The mediator is someone impartial and independent to both parties partaking to allow for fairness. Participants also agree on a level of confidentiality before proceeding.

Quick and low cost

Compared to other workplace disputes involving litigation and lengthy processes, workplace mediation saves both time and money.

Improved relationships

Whether low-level or long-standing, workplace conflict mediation has been proven to heal employee relationships. It presents employees with an opportunity to reflect and have an appreciation of differences, which can lead to a more sustainable working relationship.

Open communication

Miscommunication can contribute a lot to workplace conflict. But with the space to express their needs, parties can work together to solve problems jointly and clearly.

Examples of Mediation In the Workplace

Workplace mediation is best used to solve interpersonal conflicts, complaints and grievances. Early intervention is ideal for preventing an issue from escalating, but that’s not to say it can’t help fix historically strained working relationships.

Here are some examples of when mediation in the workplace can be used effectively:

Personality clashes

Most people will experience the problem of a personality clash at some point in their careers. Workplace mediation can be used in this instance to allow both parties to air their views in a constructive way.

The mediator can help identify points of agreement and disagreement, which may be enough to allow both parties to accept each other and move on. The mediator can also assess if alternate working arrangements need to be made and determine whether the issue really is just a personality clash or part of a wider conduct issue.

Communication breakdown

Giving parties the opportunity to self-reflect and see the other side is why mediation in the workplace is so great for solving communication breakdowns. We often only see things from our own perspective, and if caught early, a well executed mediation process can help put measures in place to avoid further misunderstandings.

Leadership style differences

Not everyone has the same leadership style, nor does everyone respond well to the same management tactics. By having an open forum between two parties about how or why they manage a certain way and suggested alternatives for how an employee might respond better - a better working relationship can be established.

Bullying and harassment

In some cases, bullying and harassment can be mediated. However, the instance should always be assessed properly, and both parties need to genuinely agree before proceeding. Ensure that the level of conflict is only intermediate, there is a capacity and willingness to listen to each other’s perspectives, and that both are ready to move beyond the dispute. It is important to note that any complaints of bullying and harassment at the workplace should be investigated and any potential harm removed before considering mediation.

The Workplace Mediation Process

Depending on the dispute and level of conflict, workplace mediation can be both formal and informal. Managers that have been trained with resolution techniques may be able to mediate team members with low-level issues; however, you can also seek the help of in-house or outsourced HR. Working with our HR agency, our partners are able to access our big-picture thinking, meaning that we can also help companies put strategies in place to develop the culture that conflict is the symptom of.

The following steps detail how to conduct a mediation session in the workplace.

Step 1: Invite both parties to participate

Workplace mediation works best when disputing team members can be sat down in a room together with an impartial mediator. Create an open environment where employees can feel comfortable enough to honestly discuss their grievances.

Step 2: Intro the session and explain its objective

As the mediator, it can be helpful to kick off the session by explaining what will take place. Set rules about who may talk and when, and indicate that you hope to reach a conclusion that will suit both parties.

Step 3: Actively listen

It’s important to pay attention to each employee as they speak, so you can comprehend why they are disputing and understand both sides of the argument. Use your body language to show you are engaged and empathetic, encouraging them to open up.

Step 4: Remain calm and optimistic

It’s essential to remain impartial and to keep your questions and guidance through the session positive.

Step 5: Deter interruptions

Maintain peace by ensuring each party is given the best opportunity to speak without interruptions. Avoid interrupting yourself to set the precedence for when someone has the floor.

Step 6: Focus on the future

To avoid mediation in the workplace from going around in circles, allow each party to have their opportunity to speak and then drive the conversation forward towards a resolution. Discourage repetition and the rehashing of what’s happened in the past. Keep it focused on future outcomes and how both parties can move beyond the dispute.

Step 7: Offer multiple solutions

Towards the end of the workplace mediation, attempt to reach an agreed action/s by offering multiple solutions. Providing a few scenarios allows both parties to contemplate an outcome together and feel part of the decision-making process.

Mediation In the Workplace

All in all, mediation in the workplace can be hugely effective in improving relationships and resolving workplace conflict. When applied to the right scenario, in the right way, a solution is likely to be found.

If you need help running workplace mediation sessions or have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to our friendly team today.

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