Mediation is an essential strategy for today’s workplace.  It is an essential preventative and risk management measure to resolve issues before they reach critical points that lead to formal complaints, legal action and stress related workers compensation claims. It is also an effective dispute and conflict resolution tool.

To optimise the success of mediation, organisations need to know firstly how to initiate mediation and how to create the best conditions for it to succeed once it has been determined that mediation will proceed.

Mediation has been a key feature of workplace dispute resolution for a significant period of time, however there still appears to some lack of understanding about what it can achieve, how it should be conducted and how to systemise its use.  This can lead to organisations missing out on opportunities to resolve disputes in an efficient and cost effective way.

One reason for this may be, that devoting adequate resources to mediation may be difficult to justify.  Generally most people would say that the costs of conflict in the workplace are high.  Despite this, data to assess just how high are often not captured by HR metrics.

Some of the costs can be extrapolated from data such as legal costs; unplanned leave costs; staff turnover costs, stress related workers compensation claims and costs for conducting independent workplace investigations. However this is unlikely to capture the full picture. For example, this data does not take into account the excessive hours required to manage conflict between employees and the hidden costs when the conflict impacts on employees not involved in the conflict.

At times, conflict that begins between individuals can impact on work output for an entire team and even an entire Department or Branch.  This is especially prevalent when conflict exists between section Managers within the same department or branch as it can have a significant impact on the levels below, obstructing smooth communication and work flow between sections.

Without this important data, the business case for reduction in legal and other costs through mediation can be harder to make. In addition, if a position or a unit is not given the role of collecting the data and initiating the use of mediation, many opportunities are likely to fall through the cracks.

Other factors may relate to a lack of adequate training or information about using mediation.  To optimize the success of mediation in resolving disputes, those initiating mediation need to understand what it can achieve, how it should be conducted appropriately in the workplace, when to introduce an independent mediator, and how to determine which disputes are suitable for mediation.

All these elements will have an impact on whether the promise of mediation – delivering cost effective, durable resolutions to damaging disputes in the workplace – can be delivered.