Resolving workplace conflicts

By Terry Leigh | 19 May 2015

Workplace conflict has a hugely negative impact on organisations. A global research report found that, on average, each employee spends approximately one day a month dealing with conflict in some way.

The organisational costs of conflict include those associated with formal procedures, sickness absence, staff turnover and impaired team morale, leading to reduced productivity. Individuals involved in conflict are also likely to be significantly impacted in various ways such as experiencing stress, career concerns and home life discord.

Workplace mediation is a well-recognised and effective process in which an independent and impartial mediator helps parties in the workplace to resolve the dispute that has arisen between them.

By encouraging positive communication in a safe and structured environment, the mediator helps people to understand each other’s perspectives and feelings, enabling them to find solutions, rebuild relationships and work together more effectively.

Workplace mediation can provide solutions to conflicts arising from a wide variety of HR concerns such as interpersonal difficulties, performance, injury, bullying, management of change and conditions of work. The benefits of workplace mediation include:

  • A reduction in time, energy and cost managing the conflict.
  • Successful mediation can rebuild relationships and help create a less stressful and more productive workplace.
  • Less likelihood of formal procedures being initiated.
  • Enhancement of staff communication skills and self-awareness, enabling them to resolve differences effectively in the future.
  • Quick to initiate and complete.

Organisations may use external mediators or create a panel of in-house mediators sourced from staff within the organisation.

External mediators achieved higher resolution rates than in-house mediators and one explanation is that external mediators working regularly with a variety of organisations, are likely to be more experienced than in-house mediators, who might only work on occasional cases.

Parties may also be more comfortable with an external mediator who has no day-to- day involvement in the organisation, enabling them to be more open and to view the mediator as genuinely independent and impartial.

The costs of setting up and running a panel of in-house mediators are often underestimated. In addition to initial and continuing training costs, organisations need to factor in the cost of administering the panel.

Finally, the staff hours dedicated to mediation training and casework need to be carefully costed.

Michael Gibbons’ government review Better Dispute Resolution – a review of employment dispute resolution in Great Britain – concluded that mediation was a ‘pragmatic, flexible and informal way of providing both parties with positive outcomes’ and recommended implementation and promotion of early dispute resolution.

The utilisation of workplace mediation should help your organisation in both human and financial terms.

Terry Leigh PhD is a mediation consultant based in London

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