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Conflict in the Workplace - A Time to Mediate? By Joseph Mulrooney

Conflict in the workplace can have a devastating effect on a company’s productivity and profitability.

Broadly speaking, there are typically 3 stages to a workplace dispute before it escalates to the Employment Tribunal:

1. A trigger event starts the dispute, and things often escalate quickly;
2. Positions become entrenched, and intervention from a line manager or HR dept is required;
3. Relationships break down completely creating a toxic atmosphere. Formal grievance allegations are made, requiring HR intervention and legal professional assistance.

The length of time between points 1 and 3 will vary from weeks to months to years, but the cost to the employer in terms of lost productivity, reduced morale, and reduced profitability will accelerate.

Mediation offers a genuine alternative. Using ACSL Ltd Solicitors to mediate a workplace dispute will see a new stage added in, so that the above process looks like this:

1. A trigger event starts the dispute, and things often escalate quickly;
2. The parties to the dispute agree to attend mediation to attempt to resolve it.

Typically, there will be no additional stages. Mediation has a remarkable success rate of over 75%. Why does it work so well? There are many reasons but here are a select few:

1. Because they are speaking to an independent person (the mediator) the employee doesn’t feel threatened.

2. The employee takes an active part in constructing a lasting solution to the dispute (via the mediator), and so they are invested in the process.

3. The follow up meeting allows a chance for review and reflection of how the agreed process is working for each party; and the chance to take on board suggestions going forward.

The CIPD ‘Conflict Management: A Shift In Direction’ Research Report (March 2015) found that employers spend on average 19 days of management time dealing with individual Employment tribunal (ET) cases. Companies with over 250 employees spend 20 days dealing with ET cases; while smaller companies spend 12 days.

Meanwhile, responses to the winter 2014-15 Labour Market Outlook survey showed that almost 1 in 10 organisations had used an external mediator. This increases to almost 1 in 5 in the public sector.

1 in 3 organisations who use external mediators, have used them more often in the past 12 months.

The LMO survey also revealed marked interest by employers in developing internal mediation skills, particularly among HR staff. Nearly half of employers reported that line managers had received training in resolving conflict in the workplace.