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Managing difficult employment relationships

What are the alternatives to grievance and disciplinary processes?

29 July 2018, at 9:33pm

Workplace conflict is a drain on a business. It leads to lost revenue, reduced productivity and increases in staff absence and turnover. 

Can you afford to leave staff who work unhappily alongside each other in conflict to fester? Doing so often ends in complex grievances arising out of differences in personality or working style, or disciplinary sanctions being issued if one party perceives the conflict to amount to bullying and harassment.

The size of the business doesn’t matter. Differences between colleagues in a smaller business can have just as much of a detrimental impact as in a larger organisation. Left unaddressed, relatively minor disagreements can escalate and cause fundamental damage to your business. 

What is workplace mediation? 

Workplace mediation is a confidential, impartial, non-judgemental and voluntary process to address workplace disputes quickly, where a neutral third party assists colleagues to understand their differences and find their own solutions. 

What is the role of the mediator? 

A key concept of mediation is that the mediator will handle the process confidentially. 

The mediator will not take sides or impose any of their own (or the employer’s) views or solutions on the parties. They are present to get the parties talking and working together to make inroads in how to address their differences. 

If a party wishes to withdraw from mediation they are free to do so, but the mediator will encourage them to think through the implications of doing so before they walk away. 

What are the benefits? 

Mediation will save your practice time and money! 

  • It addresses issues before they become protracted grievance or disciplinary matters – practice managers can focus on their day job, so productivity is not adversely affected. 
  • Early intervention means that your practice is less likely to experience staff absence and staff turnover, with the resultant exit/recruitment costs. 
  • There are fewer layers of formality, and because mediation is participant-led, they should feel a greater sense of ownership and satisfaction compared to a management imposed outcome decision.
  • Empowering employees to make their own decisions in this way leads to a reduction in litigation and encourages cooperation in future, between participants and among the workforce in general. 

When to use mediation

Mediation works for conflict in relationships between two colleagues, either peer to peer or supervisor to supervisee. 

It is not appropriate for team issues, which may benefit from facilitated sessions to air and address conflict between several colleagues and/or managers. It is not suitable for serious disciplinary matters, such as potential gross misconduct situations or serious allegations of discrimination. It is also not applicable to disputes over employment contract terms and conditions (either individual or collective).

Senior Associate at Harrison Clark Rickerbys

Stephenie is a specialist employment solicitor and is part of the health and social care team. She advises clients on employment aspects of the acquisition and disposal of businesses.

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