Stress In The Workplace: Can Mediation Help?

Scott McIver Articles

Stress is a part of everyday life. Work, financial situations and home life can all play a huge part and, if left unchecked, it can greatly affect our own well-being.

According to statistics, 85% of adults experience regular stress1. More worryingly, 77% of people say stress impacts their health, experiencing physical symptoms as a result2.

Put it into a workplace context and it can be just as harmful. For example, figures from last year suggest that over 500,000 workers suffered from stress at some point in the year3. Even more damaging for businesses was the fact that 12.8 million working days were lost due to people calling in sick from work-related stress, with 13% of these figures citing a reason of violence or threats against them3.

When looking at why we are suffering so much, it is without a doubt that one of the biggest causes of stress is conflict. The impact of falling out with a friend, family member or, in this case colleagues, can exacerbate existing stress or even be a direct cause of it.

When we look at conflict, both in the workplace and outside, it is generally agreed that there are four main reasons as to why it happens:

In most cases, humans are creatures of habit. We appreciate routine and repetitiveness, especially when it comes to work. A change in management, environment or procedure could all contribute to conflict – it could even be something as trivial as a change of work uniform!

This can work in two ways – the expectation we have of others and the expectation that others have of us. If a party doesn’t meet those expectations, this can often lead to a dispute, perhaps in the form of a telling-off or disciplinary procedures.

Sometimes, people just don’t get along. Regardless of outside factors, our opinions, actions and beliefs may be entirely different to those of others – often referred to as a “personality clash”. This is especially common in the workplace as we don’t usually get to choose who we work with.

This can be either a complete lack of communication, perhaps not consulting each other about a piece of work, or a simple miscommunication. This could come in many forms, for example a poorly-phrased piece of feedback or an email sent to entirely the wrong recipient.

Businesses are now looking for ways to resolve conflict in such a way that improves staff morale, as well as productivity.

And, when it comes to conflict, there is no better tool to do that than mediation.

As this method of resolution becomes increasingly popular, let’s look at the benefits of using it to deal with workplace conflict:

Disciplinary procedures have a habit of dragging themselves out. From the collection of evidence to organising and carrying out the meetings, it can often be several weeks until a solution is reached. With mediation, the actual process usually happens in just one or two days.

It can also be more budget-friendly than standard disciplinary procedures. More and more organisations are training up their own mediators, cutting out the cost of bringing in external mediators when the situation arises. Both are also considerably cheaper than the legal route too, which can incur hefty costs.

Mediation allows participants to get things off their chest and out into the open, which can result in understanding and empathy from both sides. This can help in building a working relationship, which is crucial for projects and other team-based work.

Mediation is unique in that it is one of the only resolution methods that promotes an outcome that all participants can be completely satisfied with. Conversely, if one of the participants was not satisfied with the resolution, this may simmer under the surface ready for future disagreements.

One of the main draws of mediation is that the decision-making and control remains with the disputants – they are the ones who influence the process and suggest any agreement. Left to a disciplinary, however, and the course of action is generally decided by a manager. Someone could even lose their job!

For these reasons, we are seeing more and more businesses calling in external mediators to deal with one-off cases. In larger or more volatile workplaces, we have noticed a sharp increase in organisations wanting to train their own team of mediators up. By doing this, they can quickly and efficiently resolve disputes in-house before it causes too much stress.

And, when you consider the effects that stressful conflicts can have, both personally and professionally, it’s easy to see why.

1 “Generation Stress: 25% of UK 16-24s Feel Anxious or Stressed Every Day“, Mintel, 2018
211 Scary Statistics About Stress At Work“, Office Vibe, 2014
3Work-Related Stress, Anxiety or Depression statistics in Great Britain“, HSE, 2019