Workplace Mediation during the pandemic

The issue

 

We are currently working in very different circumstances to normal. Employees have been furloughed, some are self-isolating and some are still working. For those who are continuing to work this can mean that they are seeing an increase in work – due to their colleagues’ absence. This can, understandably, lead to feelings of resentment amongst colleagues, which must be managed before it escalates into a more serious problem. Business owners and HR managers need to be alert to these issues, especially in light of the impact the pandemic is already having on our mental health.

 

You may be aware of some long-standing rivalries, or just a clash of personalities – these all have the ability to quickly spiral out of control. It is in no one’s interest to have employees going down the formal grievance procedure route and so if you are aware of issues then don’t delay and take action before matters escalate.  

 

 

What is workplace mediation

 

Mediation is a process used for resolving disputes in which the independent mediator helps parties find a way forward. It is future focused and less concerned with who is right or wrong, and concentrates on solving problems so that they do not occur again.

 

The parties retain responsibility for achieving a solution.

 

The mediator in the course of a day, or sometimes through a series of meetings, will discuss the issues with both parties. First, he will establish the facts and the real issues troubling the parties before starting to explore possible means to a settlement and finally will record the agreement that the parties have reached.

 

Workplace mediation can help:

  • Improve performance, morale and profitability
  • Avoid formal grievance procedures
  • Retain staff
  • Avoid redundancies payments/tribunal claims/recruitment fees

 

What types of solution are envisaged?

  • A written settlement agreement
  • Apologies and explanations
  • Improvements for future communication
  • Training
  • Changes to systems and procedures
  • Revised job descriptions
  • Timetabled action plans
  • Review meetings

 

 

What type of disputes does it cover?

Any issue which is causing conflict or distress in the workplace, below is an example of  some of the areas

 

  • Bullying
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual or racial discrimination
  • Interpersonal difficulties
  • Inappropriate behaviour
  • Management of change
  • Power struggles
  • Under performance issues
  • Absence from stress
  • Equality of pay and grading, terms and conditions, flexible working
  • Employment claims of unfair dismissal arising from any of the above issues

 

 

When is mediation appropriate?

 

It can be used at any point - from the time when HR become aware of a conflict, at any time during the grievance procedure, after a formal decision has been made (as often that will not solve the underlying conflict) and even during an Employment Tribunal case.

 

Unfortunately, in the market place there is still the old fashioned, but in our opinion, wrong attitude, that mediation is a “last resort”. At NWMS we advocate that mediation is used as a "first", not a "last" resort and not “after the event”. If used towards the end of the grievance process there is the risk that the attitudes of the employees have become entrenched and despite HR's best attempts to keep matters confidential, the issues are usually in the public domain and there is the issue of losing face.

 

At NWMS we promote that organisations should move their conflict procedures "upstream" to use the mediation process at the beginning of the conflict.

 

It is clear that the earlier a dispute is settled the better it will be for all concerned. There will be less disruption to the business, to the lives of the employees (leaving them to concentrate on their business roles) and the associated costs. For these reasons mediation should be used at an early stage to resolve employee conflict situations before they become either formal or subject to grievance /disciplinary proceedings

 

Dealing with disputes in the workplace is always difficult, but by taking a proactive stance and using a professional mediator you can find a practical and cost effective solution to the problem and minimise the disruption to your business.