So what’s your problem? Is HR ready to provide a mediation service?

So, we’re all about to start using mediation, are we? Well, yes – if we are to get on board with new employment legislation. Yes – if we could be sure that it’s going to solve more problems than it creates.

But before we get carried away with mediation being the next big thing, how can we reassure HR professionals about this relatively unfamiliar territory?

What about the apparent secrecy that surrounds mediation cases? HR staff are used to dealing with workplace disputes: on a bad day, it seems like you deal with little else. Watching your tails as you navigate through the minefield of grievance and disciplinary procedures, you are used to documenting and recording everything that is said and done.

Strict confidentiality

Yet, mediation operates within strict boundaries of confidentiality. A dispute that may have begun months ago is referred to a mediator, and suddenly we hear that ‘everything is alright now’. Not surprisingly, this can be a little hard to take. What if things go wrong in the future what if mediation has failed and the organisation doesn’t know why?

It sometimes works because of tight management of the disclosure from the mediation sessions:

  • In most workplace conflicts more goes on between the disputants than meets the eye.
  • People are more inclined to open up and to get to the heart of their inter-personal disputes if they ‘re sure it won’t go further.
  • The mediator’s role is to ensure that the issues at the heart of the matter remain where they belong: with the disputants.
  • While all necessary disclosures such as criminal activity, gross misconduct, etc, are given due regard, mediation gives the disputing parties an explicit assurance that they can negotiate fully without fear of repercussions.
  • Offering sensible disclosure, rather than secrecy, a good mediator will always gain consent to let the organisation know whether or not a dispute has been settled.

Who, how , why?

So who will deal with the mediating? Should it be a member of the HR department who went on that one-day course? Or perhaps that manager in the training department, because she has ‘a nice way with people’? And how do we know that what they are doing is mediation, and not meditation, medication, or even manipulation?

The answer is that we need to think about quality standards for mediation, in the same way that we would in any other area of our work. Mediators need to be trained to a nationally-accredited standard, by a reputable organisation that specialises in mediation, and to have been assessed in the skills, qualities and knowledge that they bring to the process.

If people take on the role of in-house mediator they need to be sure that their mediation work does not conflict with any of their other roles. This is particularly important for HR professionals who may have to pick up a grievance or disciplinary case if mediation were to fail.

If buying in external mediaton services, be sure that they come in from an organisation that guarantees the mediators’ training, experience, code of practice, and the complaints process that would be used if anything went wrong.

So whether you are training your own in-house mediators or buying one in, you need to make sure you know what you’re getting.

Training, assessment, experience

Within the many organisations that now make greater use of this process, mediation will work best when the practitioners are properly trained, assessed, experienced and supported. Similarly, any in-house scheme is more likely to work well when it is properly championed, publicised, and well understood, both by the people who are likely to make referrals to it, and by those who are going to benefit from it.

The need for adequate training and quality standards is the same in mediation as in other areas of HR practice. What differs is the use of confidentiality and the focus on the future that is inherent in it.

Using mediation for conflict resolution provides a challenge for HR professionals as it requires quite a different way of thinking it compared to a more litigious, blame-focused, and evidential approach to workplace conflict.

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