Katherine Graham

Katherine Graham

Much has been written about what employers can expect from mediation. For a stressed, off-balance employee, agreeing to a formal process may feel threatening. Here a highly experienced mediator explains how mediation can help employees resolve conflict at work.

I am delighted to welcome today’s guest writer Katherine Graham, who has 22 years’ experience in the field of workplace dispute resolution. Katherine was made Managing Director of CMP Resolutions in 2009; prior to this she was CMP’s Director of Dispute Resolution.

Katherine has delivered more than 400 mediations, often working at the most senior level mediating complex disputes between directors, partners, and CEOs.

What can an employee expect from mediation?

There are many articles available on the benefits of mediation to businesses. But what about the employees involved in a workplace dispute? What can they expect if they agree to participate in mediation?

First of all, mediation can offer just as many benefits to the people involved as it does to the employer. Being embroiled in regular conflict is a nasty experience, which raises the likelihood of employees suffering from stress and anxiety and possibly going off sick on a long-term basis.

Mediation can provide the following opportunities for the employee:

  • To be heard by someone who is impartial
  • To understand the points of view of the other person of people involved
  • To have the time to reflect upon the situation
  • To be part of the solution, rather than have a solution imposed upon them.

The steps for employees in mediation

According to the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), it’s essential that employees agree to participate in mediation rather than have it forced upon them. In addition, they should have the opportunity to opt out if they become unhappy with the way the mediation process is proceeding. If the people involved don’t buy in to the concept, it’s unlikely that mediation will work.

The mediator will contact each employee to tell them what will happen and get an idea of what they hope to get out of the process. When the mediator learns in more detail what the problem is, they will make a decision as to how to progress. They may bring the employees into the same room to talk through issues, but it’s more common for the mediator to meet each employee separately in the first instance to understand what is causing the conflict and how it is affecting them.

When the mediator has discussed the matter thoroughly, they may ask each employee for permission to convey certain pieces of information to the other parties. This may include how they felt about certain incidents, why they behaved in a certain way and what they hope to gain from mediation.

The goal is to get each employee in the process to a place where they feel comfortable talking to each other – in the presence of the mediator – about the workplace conflict face to face. This will be at the point where everyone is ready to discuss and agree on solutions to stop the problems from happening again.

To get the most from mediation, it’s important that employees understand the importance of:

  • Regarding the matter as confidential
  • Being committed to finding a positive way forward
  • Showing respect for the process and to the mediator and everyone else involved
  • Adhering to the agreement reached at the end of the process.

Employees will also be more likely to trust the option of mediation if there is some kind of follow-up, such as the mediators checking if everyone has kept to the agreed arrangement. Even better, when an employee has been through a mediation process, they will be more skilled in the future at resolving conflict on their own and confident in dealing with disputes in a constructive manner.

Katherine Graham, Managing Director, CMP Resolutions.