Mediation In The Emergency Services: The First Responder To Workplace Conflict

Scott McIver Articles

Mediation can be effective in many different types of workplaces, and especially beneficial in industries and settings that deal with much more extreme circumstances.

One such example is the emergency services. While our police, ambulance, and fire and rescue services may be used to dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations, they are not immune from facing interpersonal conflicts just like the rest of us.

In fact, they are often more likely to experience conflicts with colleagues than the regular office worker, for the following reasons:

Stressful environment 
Everyone is aware of how overworked and often underpaid emergency services staff currently are. With funding and resources at an all time low, it’s no surprise to see that 87% of emergency services staff say that they feel stressed regularly1. Long hours and workload also contribute to this, with 62% of Police Federation union members saying that their workload is simply too much for them to handle by themselves2. This stress could inadvertently be taken out on a colleague, as people become irritable and more prone to ‘snapping’ under stress.

High stakes 
When dealing with people’s security, safety and well-being, the cost of potential errors or wrong decisions could be huge. Employees may have differing opinions on the best course of action or have contrasting priorities on how resources should be used. These could coincide with a clash of personalities, including values, morals, and beliefs, and could lead to a potential conflict.

Lack of communication
Similar to many workplaces, much of the general communication takes place through telephone calls or emails. Of course, this comes with potential pitfalls. Miscommunications are common with any form of technology and can exacerbate, or even ignite, a falling out.

Time constraints
In addition, when conflicts do arise, they may not be properly dealt with. More often that not, emergency staff won’t have time to sit down, take a couple of minutes, and sort it out among themselves. By delaying the resolution, the dispute may fester under the service and become more deep-rooted and damaging.

Here at UK Mediation, we are seeing increasing numbers of police constabularies, ambulance services and fire and rescue services seeking workplace mediation.

We can either mediate disputes as external, independent mediators, or provide in-house training courses that teach employees how to deal with conflict internally. Both of these offerings are extremely popular, with our mediations being around 85-90% successful, and with many past training course delegates saying that the skills they learned have greatly improved their day-to-day work.

But why is mediation and mediation training so effective in these situations?

Maintaining relationships
Mediation allows participants to get their thoughts and opinions out into the open for others to hear, which can help to build understanding and empathy, whilst also strengthening working relationships.

Reducing costs
Mediation is more budget-friendly than costly disciplinary or legal procedures. External mediation services can help to avoid more serious conflict further down the line, while training staff in conflict resolution can minimise future conflict-related costs altogether.

Saving time
Almost all mediation cases conclude in a single day. Plus, having a bank of trained in-house conflict resolvers on hand can mean very little time needs to be spent on lengthy investigations. In fact, most cases never need to get that far.

Increased morale
With record numbers of emergency services staff considering quitting (1 in 4)3, measures need to be taken to remove all of the unnecessary stresses that come along with the job. By resolving potentially damaging conflict quickly, whilst also making the workplace a more supportive environment to be in, we can expect a positive impact on productivity, well-being and staff loyalty.

Thanks to our expertise, many of the UK’s emergency services are now using workplace mediation to benefit their employees. It can nip conflict in the bud, minimise grievances, and repair people’s working relationships, allowing the emergency services to focus on the standout job that they continue to do so well.

1Mind Research Finds Stress Affects Nine In Ten Emergency Services Personnel‘, Mind, 2015
2Police Federation Survey Shows Officers More Demoralised And Feeling ‘Undervalued And Under Pressure‘, Huffington Post, 2017
3’What’s the Emergency: Blue Light Services in Crisis?‘, Edge Hill University, 2018