Occasional conflicts and disputes are a fact of life in all workplaces. One of the best ways to defuse difficult situations, resolve office concerns and keep your staff happy is mediation. But even though this is a potentially very effective device in the employer's toolkit, workplace mediations can go wrong.
Let's take a look at the process of mediation, and some of the issues which might arise.
The mediation process requires all parties involved in a dispute or issue to meet in the presence of a third party (the mediator), to try and come up with mutually acceptable solutions.
The mediator is trained and is required to be neutral. Unlike a judge, they will not make a determination or decision - instead, a mediator will listen to all parties and suggest objective solutions and options.
During the actual process of mediation, the parties are encouraged to ventilate their respective viewpoints. Each party then has the opportunity to have private discussions with the mediator, after which the mediator will discuss any commonalities and the key differences in each party's attitude, while suggesting potential resolutions.
Outcomes are flexible and are really only limited by the willingness of the involved parties to cooperate. In the employment context, this means that mediations may result in agreement to apologise, or more novel outcomes such as crediting or debiting leave hours, returning property, or providing work references. Mediations are confidential, which also makes them an extremely attractive option.
Mediation can be extremely helpful by providing a positive communication and solution tool in circumstances where there are no easy answers.
However, mediation may not be as successful if one or both of the parties are extremely entrenched in their viewpoint and are unlikely or unwilling to compromise. This is particularly the case because mediation is a voluntary process - so if staff are reluctant to participate, they cannot be forced to engage.
Further, where matters of serious misconduct or illegality are involved, it may be inappropriate to attempt to find novel solutions to workplace issues. In those circumstances, it is generally appropriate to follow the traditional paths of discipline, incentivisation or other resolution methods.
There can also be issues if parties don't comply with any agreed upon outcomes of the mediation process.
Any agreement which is reached during the mediation process can be as formal or as informal as the parties and workplace prefer: from a simple verbal agreement all the way through to a Deed of Settlement recording the negotiated terms or contract stipulating future actions.
Should a formal agreement be executed and one of the parties subsequently reneges on the terms of settlement, the aggrieved party can pursue legal action through the court system to force compliance.
If you have an issue in your workplace regarding employee conflict, it may be useful to discuss these issues with an external, experienced workplace investigator or mediator. If you need support in how to conduct an investigation or need to engage a mediator, contact WISE.
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