Purpose of mediation is to bring people together to the same negotiating table with an objective of resolving the dispute. As with any mediation process, mediators assist two or in some cases more parties to achieve a practical agreement that is ideally in the best interest of all involved. This solution must also conform to any organisational policies and applicable industrial laws. During the mediation process, both parties are encouraged to talk openly and present all the available information to ensure honesty and openness.
Some of the more common sources of conflict in the workplace for example are due to differences in needs and wants, perceptions, values, knowledge and expectations. Lack of recognition, control or respect in addition to the more obvious instances of harassment and bullying can all be causes of conflict at work. These factors normally result in either employment termination or an employee taking a position; both of these common scenarios could lead to a dispute situation where an employee is claiming an unfair dismissal or an employer taking disciplinary action against employee’s position.
Workplace disputes can be complex involving more than two parties such as the cases of assisting workgroups, management teams or entire offices to identify issues and resolve disputes. While workplace mediators will most likely be experienced in employment and industrial law, their role as mediators requires them to abstain from taking any sides during the mediation process.
In a case of an lawyers acting as mediators, it is obvious that there must be no conflict of interest, i.e. these mediators must not be representing any of the parties legally. As with any conflict resolution, mediator’s position is not to provide any industrial or legal advice. The core function of any mediator during the meeting is to assist parties in clearly identifying issues in dispute distinguishing the needs from wants, encourage the dialog, work out and present the options and finally reach the agreement that is subsequently recorded in the mediation report.
As the goal of a good mediation process is to reach a workable agreement for all parties involved, it is not uncommon for mediation to yield general recommendations to management about possible changes to HR policies and workplace procedures with a view of avoiding the disputes in the future.
Although it is technically possible to use an in-house expert for workplace mediation such as the human resource staff or a CEO, this creates difficulties regarding lack of neutrality and confidentiality. Such in-house conciliator or arbitrator may be influenced by previous experiences, knowledge, loyalties and alliances making them possibly biased or at least they may be perceived as biased by the disputed parties. Workplace mediation that is processed by an external mediator will more likely be fair, objective, confidential and independent.