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  • Sophie Clifford Eva Edel

Why workplace mediations don’t work; do this instead: our second 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 often not altogether that effective. To really fix the issues, you need a slightly more creative approach. Last week we published our first tip for lawyers and HR advisers ("don't call it mediation"). Here is our second tip.

Help your clients understand it’s not a one day thing; think of it like going to the chiropractor.

A first session with a mediator (aka facilitator, coach etc) is like that thing the chiro does with your back that makes dramatic clicks: it unblocks things. It enables participants to talk in a way they haven’t been able to for a while.

But don’t let them stop there because it's not enough. You don't fix that pain in your neck in one session. In fact, sometimes it can feel a bit sore after the visit to the chiropractor and mediations can feel like that. A release on the day, a bit of soreness the day after. You know any HR process has a number of steps. You can’t do a performance dismissal in a day. You know litigation has even more. Help your clients understand that mediation is the same: trust takes time to repair. They will need to invest a bit of time in it. When they do, that is when they will really avoid the pains and risks of the traditional HR processes and litigation.

After the first intervention, the next steps for the participants should be to ask them to engage in a mix of personal reflection, with or without the facilitator, and if need be hold collective follow up sessions. Tailor it to the circumstances. We often follow up over the next month at least and build the goodwill incrementally. The key concept being that it will take a bit of time to recover from the injuries sustained by the relationship(s).
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