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Mediation in the workplace

Mediation can potentially save your business a significant amount of time, effort, resource and money. In this article, Jonathan Friedman, Senior HR Consultant at Ceridian, explains why employers choose mediation and its business benefits.

In 2007, the Gibbons Review was commissioned by the Government for two reasons. Firstly, to address the increase of 85,000 tribunal claims over the previous year and secondly, to analyse the escalating average employer cost of defending a claim of circa £9,000.

There was clear frustration within Gibbons’ report that such common sense resolutions were shackled by over prescriptive statutory guidelines. Consequently, grievances have been dealt with in an over zealous manner and with such formal rigour that has effectively exacerbated issues that could have otherwise been resolved in a simple and uncomplicated fashion. An outcome of this review was that an alternative dispute resolution method – Mediation – should be utilised where the opportunity arose.

There are a number of reasons why employers should go down the mediation route:

1. Speed and time taken up by a grievance

  • A typical grievance can last a number of weeks and it can drag a variety of employees into the process who may or may not wish to be involved.
  • It requires significant time to gather all the evidence and data.
  • Writing up an outcome report is no mean feat – ensuring it is logical, well balanced and based on rationality and/or balance of probability.
  • Potentially, HR and Employee Relations team or external solicitors have to get involved so that the liability risk to the employer is minimised.
  • Then there is always the appeal which means a repeat of the above process but by an equivalent or more senior manager who is not involved.

2. Cost

  • There is the potential cost of the outcome not satisfying the individual at the end of the process and it goes to Employment Tribunal anyway.
  • Given that the outcome in a formal grievance is never a win/win situation, even when the formalities have been concluded as successfully as possible, what are the costs to the future relationship between the two parties?
  • For smaller businesses – costs of investigation could be crippling. When a senior manager or business owner has to outsource this work to an external consultant to do so – the minimum cost is likely to be two or three days time for a basic case.
  • Significant time could be spent by senior managers managing a grievance that is away from the real focus of the business. The employer is potentially achieving far less output than usual.

3. Outcome

  • If someone raises a grievance against someone else – the outcome is either win/ lose; lose/win or lose/lose.
  • The situation is never win/win, yet organisations throw pots of money at this problem because they need to be seen to be following their grievance policy to the letter. They need to be seen to be compliant and are fearful of doing something wrong.
  • However, even if all of this is done – where does the organisation go from there? At least one of the two parties is likely to still feel aggrieved by the end of the process.
  • Only the symptoms are dealt with. The grievance manager does not have the capacity to delve deeper nor does the process truly allow it.
  • It is an evidence based decision on fact and/or probability which the grievance manager weighs up and plays judge and jury.

What are the Business benefits?

  • About 80% of all workplace disputes are resolved by mediation.
  • The approach helps to address the cause instead of the symptoms, and it usually enables the two parties to genuinely get past these issues, to learn more about each other and their reactions that brought them to this point and strengthens their relationship moving forward.
  • The two parties agree the way forward by designing a contract together with the support of a mediator – this is a win/win situation and is not a legally binding document.
  • It is usually completed in a day – only in exceptional circumstances does this move into a second day.
  • It also looks very favourable on behalf of the employer if ever the employee concerned did take the employer to an Employment Tribunal. Legislation recommends mediation or informal resolution options to be exhausted initially. This approach minimises the time spent away from the real focus of the business by all employees and managers.
  • It is still classified as an informal route; even if it fails, the employee can invoke formal proceedings afterwards. In other words, utilising the mediation option still keeps all the other doors open.

Practical Hints and Tips for employers

Given the obvious business case for mediation, many employers are starting to incorporate the mediation option within their grievance policy. You need to utilise a qualified interpersonal mediation practitioner. They are trained to address the issues in a particular way and follow a proven process. The mediation process is voluntary. Parties cannot be coerced into mediation if they don’t want to. Not all situations are mediable. You may wish to speak to a qualified mediator for advice if you are unsure.

For further information and support, contact Jonathan Friedman directly on 0777 443 8333 or contact Ceridian online.

  • 1st December 2011
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