Why mediation can effectively resolve workplace conflict

24 June 2022

The sooner a business acts on workplace conflict, the more likely it is to achieve a resolution. Managing conflict quickly can reduce ongoing disputes and reduce legal risk

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The pressures may be showing for some businesses, particularly as COVID-19 changes the way we work. If issues aren’t dealt with early, they can spiral and adversely impact workplace culture.

Businesses want to succeed and foster safe and harmonious workplaces. This means investing in relationships is a necessity. Where issues arise, mediation can quell the conflict and achieve a lasting resolution.

Understand the fundamentals of mediation so you can act quickly.

#1 What is a workplace mediation?

A workplace mediation is a relatively informal discussion between two or more parties that are not getting along at work.

Mediation should be thought of as a ‘facilitated discussion’ where parties are brought together to discuss their disagreements. This is facilitated by an independent third party (the ‘mediator’), who provides structure to the conversation.

Mediation enables parties to have a discussion they previously may not have been able to have.

The mediator will first have a short consultation with the relevant manager to understand the issues and how they are impacting the workplace.

A mediation is a flexible process. Not all mediations are the same and the mediator will work with the parties to make sure the process is appropriate for all involved.

Before the mediation itself, the mediator will hold separate ‘intake’ discussions with each party. In this discussion the mediator will introduce themselves. They will explain the process and discuss why this process is happening and what the parties might want to achieve.

Mediation can involve multiple meetings both with and without the other party. On the day, the mediation will typically follow this process:

  • The mediator will provide a short introductory statement, setting out how the mediation will run, and reminding the parties of the ground rules for the session
  • Each party will then be invited to provide a short summary of the issues as they see them
  • The mediator will then outline an agenda of issues to be covered in the mediation, based on what each party outlined in their short summary of issues
  • The parties will then be invited to engage in conversation with each other, to set out their views on each of the issues and begin to develop options for resolving the issues. This discussion will be facilitated by the mediator
  • The mediator may then invite the parties into separate confidential sessions with or continue the discussion with both parties to further explore the issues and options for resolution
  • The parties will then come back together to begin to develop more options for resolution, and possibly begin to record those options in an agreement.

#2 Who conducts a mediation?

As mentioned, a mediator is an independent third party. The Victorian Chamber’s Workplace Relations Team has nationally trained mediators and consultants who have conducted mediations for many different businesses across Australia.

The team has vast experience – from private practice and in-house lawyers to human resources and business partners over range of industries, including for finance, manufacturing, not-for-profit and charities, education and retail.

A workplace mediation can involve any worker or stakeholder including administrators, sales teams, teachers, professors, medical professionals, business owners, executives and board members.

#3 Where does the mediation take place?

Mediation can take place in-person or virtually. If the mediation is in person, we recommend consideration is given to location. Parties need to feel comfortable, so your workplace may or may not be appropriate.

If you are local, we can offer meeting rooms at our Melbourne headquarters at no additional cost. We prefer to use at least two rooms so parties can have a safe and confidential space to talk privately with the mediator.

Mediation can be held virtually. There are many benefits with this. You don’t need to worry about rooms, and it’s a lot quicker to arrange appointments and meeting times. It also can mean parties feel more comfortable as they are in their own space and the process feels less intimidating.

#4 Why do we suggest mediation?

Mediation is often the last step before a more formal process such as a grievance procedure or disciplinary procedure.

Mediation is less formal and allows the parties to retain control over the outcome. It is an opportunity to avoid the time, risk and unpleasantry of a more formal process. If mediation is not successful, formal processes remain open to parties.

As an employer, conducting a mediation before more formal steps can be an effective risk mitigation step. It demonstrates to the parties (and to a court or tribunal where a claim is made) the employer is interested in them as people and avoids processes with more severe outcomes (such as warnings or termination of employment).

#5 When should we mediate?

If there is a conflict in your workplace, act now. The quicker we act to resolve a conflict, the more likely we are to achieve a lasting resolution.

Conflict has a habit of permeating its way through the workforce. It can have adverse effects on those involved as well as the team around them. Each situation is unique, but we find most workplace conflicts or disagreements can be resolved via mediation.

Any situation where an ongoing relationship will be important is generally conducive to mediation. Unlike some other formal processes, mediations are conducted with a specific objective of building a sustainable basis for parties to maintain a productive and professional work relationship.

If you are unsure whether the conflict is suitable for mediation, get in touch.

VCCI Workplace Mediation

The Victorian Chamber prides itself on a no-surprises policy when it comes to costs. We offer mediation on a fixed fee basis. To find out more or discuss whether mediation may be an appropriate means of resolving a conflict in your workplace, call the Workplace Relations Advice Line on 03 8662 5222.

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