Workplace mediation is invaluable. Well-structured mediations allow issues to be resolved quickly, with minimal expense. This process can resolve issues at an early stage, or further down the line. Business solutions can be brokered, rather than be driven by a determination of who was "right" and "wrong" on the law.
Businesses that have adopted mediation as part of their dispute resolution armoury boast high levels of success, and claim that it promotes a positive culture.
Now is an opportune moment for mediation to expand its horizons. The prevailing climate is forcing employers to streamline their workforce and deal with employment issues economically, quickly and privately. The Employment Bill reforms in April 2009, will (hopefully) herald a new age of flexibility in resolving disputes, encouraging parties to take ownership of the resolution process. Mediation could well become the popular choice.
However, mediation is not the perfect answer. Criticisms can be made of it, not least that there is a lack of well-recognised service providers and regulation of mediators. Without the ability to rely on reputable independent mediators, it is hard to see how either party will be tempted to rely on this method. This is particularly true of employees, who may be naturally suspicious of a forum that, of necessity, the employer will organise.
Mediation has its limitations in the types of dispute it can resolve. It is most effective where the issue is relationship based: for example bullying or harassment. But it also requires both parties to aim to maintain the employment relationship - not an easy requirement.
A lack of awareness of and aversion to mediation is prevalent in the UK. A 2008 Acas research report indicated that 7% of managers used mediation, and only a further 56% had even heard of it! If mediation is to become ingrained in the workplace its profile needs to be raised, with parties being educated in what it involves, achieves, and where to go for help.
What is the future for mediation? Should it be compulsory? Michael Gibb