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How to get HRDs comfortable with Workplace Mediation

I recently joined the panel of Workplace Mediators at In Place Of Strife, the mediation only chambers which specialises in deploying highly experienced and distinguished mediators.  I have decided to specialise in Workplace mediation, rather than broader commercial mediation, as I want to bring my deep workplace executive and HR management experience to mediation in the workplace.  This an area of increasing need for HR Directors and my extensive experience in HR and executive management means I understand the concerns of the HR Director, as well as the issues of the participants.

I recall an incident early in my career as an HR lead when I inherited a particularly unhappy TUPE transferee.  He had a list of issues as long as your arm which he pursued through many grievances. The company went through the formal process and sent him a very long letter explaining its position on each issue and the actions being taken.  I then met with the employee again and he was still not satisfied – back came another long letter.  Having tried to satisfy him for several months, and with no other options available, I sent him a letter advising him to resign if he was so unhappy. I was shocked when he overnight morphed into a model and happy employee! However my action was high risk – it was only successful by chance.  I would not take such an action today – I would bring in a Workplace Mediator.  

I recognise that HRDs have a dilemma to manage, in considering whether to deal with issues such as a grievance by way of workplace mediation.  The formal investigation route for grievances theoretically provides an official, recorded way of ensuring HR have followed due process.  Contrast that with the perceived risk of passing the grievance to a mediator who operates a confidential process, and where the HRD may or may not receive a formal read-out on the outcome.

The good news for HRDs is there are several positives to consider:

1.     Employment Tribunals do recognise workplace mediation as good HR practice

2.     Workplace mediation is one of the most effective tools in resolving difficult workplace issues quickly and decisively, and returning both parties to full morale and productivity. The process engages the complainant in resolving the problem, whereas the formal grievance process hands the issue squarely to management to resolve

3.     A workplace mediator with deep experience of the workplace can walk in the shoes of the participants and bring relevant and constructive challenge

4.     Commercially focused HR Directors and General Counsel will recognise there is a good business return on investing a little via mediation compared to the much greater cost, loss productivity, lost sales and lost knowledge associated with the exit and replacement of talent.

As a former HRD I can empathise completely with the discomfort some HRDs may feel when referring the more difficult or relationship based grievance claims to workplace mediation.    By way of mitigation I will be doing my best to encourage the parties in workplace mediation to share some or all of their action plan with the organisation as the best way of assisting them to operate in their new agreed way of working – at the successful conclusion of the mediation.