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  • Sophie Clifford Eva Edel

Why workplace mediations don’t work. Do this instead: our first tip for lawyers and HR advisers

As both a mediator and an employment lawyer, I have strong views on mediation in the workplace: it’s hardly ever used and not altogether that effective. To fix the issues, you need a slightly more creative approach.

Don’t call it mediation

Mediation is what you use to settle a litigious dispute: it takes a day, is often a shuttle between parties, and usually parties walk away never to meet again. Workplace mediation is different. It is the art of getting people who probably don’t like each other at this point and certainly don’t trust each other to collaborate effectively again.

To achieve this, you need to catch it early; intervene when things are just starting to go wrong, when you, as a lawyer or HR adviser, see the early symptoms of dysfunction: too much sick leave, restructures causing issues, performance concerns. But when things are just starting to go wrong, no one wants to step into a mediation; it sounds all so formal. This is where you need to think outside the box: call it a “facilitated conversation”, a “chat with a person with expertise in collaborative working”, a “workplace coach”.

It’s just words but you will significantly increase the chances of getting people to the table and working on resolving their issues before they are so entrenched in their disagreement trust is near impossible to restore.

There are circumstances when calling it a mediation is exactly right: when Occupational Health recommends a mediation or you are already in a Grievance process. By then things are usually very difficult which is why a mediation is both a great idea and parties may be willing to take part of it. See our tip two next week for how to overcome the entrenchment.

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