Speak to any manager and they will tell you that a lot of their time is spent trying to resolve conflict of all types and sizes. In fact, a recent survey found that 18% of a manager’s time is spent dealing with staff disputes (averaging out at 9 working weeks a year!)1
And whether this is just a minor gripe over shift arrangements or much more serious allegations of bullying and harassment, all disputes have the potential to worsen over time. If left unaddressed, they can be incredibly damaging to the business: both in financial terms and in regards to their working culture.
For example, alongside the obvious costs of legal advice and tribunal costs, there are a number of “hidden costs of conflict”:
During the grievance or tribunal process, managers may need to collect evidence, carry out investigations or interviews, reviewing all of the above, and arranging cover to enable the process to continue.
Human Resources’ time
Working alongside the managers, HR staff will need to provide advice, arrange the aforementioned meetings and interviews, note-take, carry out appeals, and provide updates to those involved.
If employees are off-sick or absent, either due to illness, stress or suspension, the organisation may still need to pay them, get cover for them, or deal with the costs of incomplete or rushed work.
If the worst-case scenario of people leaving the company happens, there will also be costs relating to replacing them externally or promoting from within.
On top of these tangible costs, there are also side-effects of the negative atmosphere that conflict can bring to the working environment. This can damage employee morale and productivity, and is another reason why organisations aim to resolve conflict as soon as it appears.
It’s no surprise then that, in an age of cost-cutting and ultra-productivity, many forward-thinking organisations are using workplace mediation – both internal and external mediators – to resolve disputes that crop up between their staff.
At UK Mediation, we have worked with many organisations from a wide variety of sectors over the past 20 years, providing services, training, or a combination of the two, to help resolve workplace disputes of all kinds. These include grievance-type issues, personality clashes, miscommunications and, of course, allegations of bullying and harassment.
In addition to its versatility, workplace mediation is:
Most mediations between 2 or 3 parties can be completed within one day, including individual sessions with all parties and a joint session where they are brought together. Participants can then be back at work the next day: in contrast, individual grievances or tribunals can last on average 19 days2, according to CIPD research.
Participants are asked to sign a Confidentiality Agreement prior to taking part, meaning that none of what is said in mediation finds its way elsewhere. None of the agreement points are fed back either, unless explicitly agreed to by the disputants. This means that both parties can say what’s on their mind and work towards an agreement, without fear of reprisal or repercussions.
Contrary to other forms of dispute resolution, mediation aims to find an agreement without the input of a third party. The mediator’s only role is to facilitate the conversation in a neutral and non-intrusive manner, leaving the disputants to focus on working towards an agreement.
All in all, the cost of a one-day mediation session is a small fraction of that of an employment tribunal or grievance. Most providers offer the service with no hidden costs either, with the mediator’s travel and accommodation expenses already included.
Successful (in the majority of cases)
The most commonly-cited figures, as well as that of our own experience, suggest that around 85% of mediation cases end in some form of agreement. And, even if the participants don’t come away with some future-focused points to work on, we often find that just going through the mediation process can open the door for an agreement further down the line.
Having said all of this, many organisations still don’t use mediation, or they either use it incorrectly or not enough. Many of them are so firmly rooted in their ways of disciplinaries and grievances, and others may have very little awareness of it.
However, when you look at the benefits and the advantages that it offers to organisations and its employees, we can only hope that they get on board pretty soon!
And don’t forget to view our recent ‘Becoming a Workplace Mediator’ webinar to find out more about workplace mediation, including the steps involved in becoming a professional mediator.
1 ‘Managers Spend Nearly a Full Day Each Week Dealing with Staff Conflicts’, Accountemps, 2011.
2 ‘Conflict Management: A Shift in Direction?’, CIPD, 2015.