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Q. What is the purpose of mediation at work?

The objective of mediation is for two neutral, independent mediators to assist those in conflict to resolve their differences and reach a mutually acceptable agreement on the way forward.

Mediation is:

  • A chance for parties to consider their real needs and interests
  • An opportunity for discussions on a confidential basis
  • Future focussed, in addition to reviewing past events and present circumstances
  • An opportunity for more creative solutions than those available through formal procedures

Q. Who are the internal mediators and what is their role?

The mediators are an experienced team of volunteers from within the University who have received formal mediation training. The mediators are neutral and impartial, they have no vested interest in the outcome and will not impose an agreement. The mediators are only interested in helping the parties reach a mutually acceptable solution. They will manage the mediation process, creating a safe and supportive environment so that both parties can talk honestly and openly about what has happened and how it has affected them.

In particular, the mediators will help the individuals to:

  • Clarify the problem and identify a path to resolution
  • Identify and acknowledge each other's needs and interests
  • Move towards improved relationships
  • Make informed, considered and balanced decisions

Q. What are the benefits of using workplace mediation?

  • Resolution can be achieved in days or weeks rather than months or years
  • Mediation can get to the root cause of the issues which contributed to the creation of the dispute
  • Management time is better employed
  • Relationships can be preserved
  • The costs are lower
  • It reduces damage to relationships within a team which could be caused by an internal investigation of a complaint
  • The process is entirely confidential
  • The process is actively managed by the parties
  • Various options to achieve the resolution can be explored and tested
  • The parties are more likely to abide by the solution since they design and agree to it
  • As the parties control the outcome, there is greater satisfaction with the results

Q. When can we use mediation?

Mediation can be used at any time when the working relationship of two or more individuals has broken down. This may be before, during or after formal internal proceedings as long as both parties genuinely want to see an end to the dispute.

Mediation is appropriate when the individuals:

  • Have voluntarily chosen to take part and do not feel pushed in to it
  • Are committed to the process and want to solve their problems
  • Need help from an external party to work things out
  • Have to work together and cannot avoid the conflict between them

Q. When is mediation not appropriate?

It may not be appropriate where:

  • One party has no genuine interest in reaching agreement
  • Used by a line manager to avoid their managerial responsibilities
  • A decision about right or wrong is needed, for example where there is a possible disciplinary offence
  • The individual bringing a discrimination or harassment case wants it investigated
  • The parties do not have the power to settle the issue

Q. What can we do if one party does not wish to participate?

Not everyone will immediately agree to participate in mediation. They may be angry or so intent on proving the other party “wrong” that only having their “day in court” under the formal procedures will satisfy them.

Sometimes just waiting a few days or weeks can make a difference and parties may be more willing to discuss the options more calmly and openly. They may need some time to realise the time involved and implications of pursuing more formal procedures.

They may need more information about how mediation works and whether it meets their needs. Consider referring them to this website for information on the benefits of mediation and frequently asked questions for participants. It may also be useful to suggest a confidential meeting with the mediator or mediation coordinator to answer any questions they have to enable them to arrive at a more informed decision.

Of course, staff cannot be compelled to undergo mediation and whilst some may come round to the idea, others may never agree to participate and always have the right to refuse. An unwilling participant will not be fully committed to the result, so whilst it may be helpful to explain the merits of mediation it is not worth exerting any pressure.

Q. What is the difference between mediation and arbitration?

Mediation is quite different from arbitration.

Arbitration involves an impartial outsider making a firm decision on a dispute, based on the evidence presented by the parties. In arbitration both parties must agree in advance that they will abide by the arbitrator's decision.

In contrast, a mediator assists the parties in reaching a solution that is acceptable to each of them without imposing a decision. A mediator will not make judgments or determine outcomes—they simply ask questions that help to uncover underlying problems, assist the parties to understand the issues and help them to clarify the options for resolving their conflict.

Q. Will any information be disclosed to the participants line manager(s)?

Only if both parties agree for this information to be shared. The process of mediation is entirely confidential. Any notes or records made by the mediator during the process will be destroyed on conclusion of the mediation process. Whilst it can be very helpful for line managers to understand how the mediation went and if a resolution has been reached, any feedback will be a matter for the individuals participating in mediation to agree. The institution will however be notified once the process has been completed.