Through mediation, workplaces can resolve disputes faster than going to court. This minimises the impact of the issue on the employees’ performance and on the organisation’s operation, making it a win-win solution. 

At some point in time, conflicts can arise in the workplace due to personality clashes or difference in perceptions. A disagreement over a simple matter can create a rift between co-workers. If not this, the feeling of being discriminated can lead employees to file a complaint against their manager or a superior. These circumstances can affect an organisation’s performance, and take toll on its business. Interpersonal problems between co-workers, staff and managers or employees and customers can lower morale on the job, cause depression and raise absenteeism – all of which can hamper productivity. Meanwhile, companies in disputes with employees may find themselves in an industrial tribunal, where they are likely to pay for legal fees; or issue a financial award to the aggrieved party, if needed. Therefore, workplace and employment disputes can have awful consequences for both employees and companies.

Through mediation, co-workers and companies can find a way to solve issues efficiently, minimising their effect on workplace productivity and reducing dispute resolution costs for management. In the past two years, mediation has helped about 11,000 workers in Australia resolve their disputes with their employer, said Natalie James, Fair Work Ombudsman. “Mediators help the parties focus on the relevant issues in order to reach an amicable outcome,” she said. Disputes can occur in the workplace due to a breakdown in communications, misunderstanding and the failure of one side to take into account the needs of the other. Both parties try to determine which side is wrong and which one is right. Meanwhile, the mediator enables them to understand each other’s perspective and encourage better communication to be able to reach a mutually satisfying outcome.

Last year alone, mediation has helped the Ombudsman resolve 6,294 cases, up from 4,625 cases in 2013. The numbers tell a story; that mediation is indeed advantageous for resolving workplace and employment disputes. Let’s take a closer look on why it is suitable for these circumstances.

1. Mediation addresses imbalances in power to promote better communication.

The hierarchy in an organisation connotes imbalances in power, which can limit proper disclosure from employees and even managers for fear of being reprimanded or terminated. With the intervention of an independent mediator, these imbalances in power can be managed, and a neutral and safe setting for conversation can be achieved. Subordinates and their superiors have an equal chance of being listened to in mediation. The process is also confidential, allowing both parties to be candid with the mediator. This promotes better communication between both sides, which is crucial for achieving a mutually satisfying outcome.

2. It allows both sides to freely express their perspectives, and understand each other’s view.

In employment disputes, both employers and the employees hold a strong position against each other. A disgruntled employee can file a complaint against an employer due to unfair treatment or discrimination. On the other hand, an employer could feel wrongly accused, or feel being taken advantage of in the situation. Through mediation, both sides can freely express their perspectives, gain a better understanding of their conflict and allow the formulation of creative solutions that will guide future interactions. For instance, a company may offer letters of apology or letters of reference for a terminated employee, or provide additional trainings for those who are still part of the organisation.

3. Mediation is confidential, allowing both employees and management to safeguard their reputation.

As mentioned above, mediation is a confidential process, which means that the discussion is kept off the record. Hence, mediation can protect the reputation of both employees and employers while they resolve their disputes. This means that the issue will not affect the career prospects of the employee, and it will not taint the reputation of the company in the eyes of its clients and the general public. However, the confidentiality of the discussion may be revoked when there are threats of violence or misconduct. Confidentiality would also not hinder the human resources unit of a company from monitoring the settlement rate of mediation.

4. Mediation is fast and cost-effective, reducing disruptions in the workplace.

When it comes to the workplace, relationships are extremely important. Great employees have left companies due to bad associations with others. Others have dreaded facing another workday with an abrasive colleague or manager. The quicker a workplace conflict can be resolved, the better it is for all involved.

Since mediation enables both sides to have a better understanding of their dispute, the issue can be resolved faster as compared to litigation. A resolution is possible within hours or days, while the traditional court process can stretch for months. Consequently, companies will have lower expenses in mediation than in litigation. Employees can then return to their normal tasks, while companies can maintain regular operations.