Workplace Mediation is one of the newer forms of mediation and has become increasingly popular in Australia. The types of issues covered are varied but may include; bullying and harassment, team conflict, interpersonal differences, disputes over resources, manager/employee conflict and issues related to grievance handling.
Workplace mediation, while similar to other forms of mediation, does have unique characteristics. So what are the factors that set Mediation in the workplace apart from other settings?
Conduct and practice within the workplace is subject to a vast amount of legislation and common law including Health and Safety legislation, anti-Discrimination and anti-Harassment legislation, human rights legislation, flexible working regulations, paternity leave regulations and dispute resolution regulations to name just a few.
Employment Contracts and Working Conditions
Employees and employers also enter into employment contracts with each other that cover a range of matters including conditions and terms of employment. Employers also enter into national and/or local agreements with trade unions or professional employee associations and are subject to rules and regulations governing consultation with such bodies.
On-going Working Relationships
Unlike in family or community Mediation people who work together very rarely have the option of resolving a conflict by choosing not to associate with the person, they are experiencing conflict with. In fact, in most cases none of the parties to a workplace conflict can elect to be transferred to another post or request that someone else be relocated in order to avoid contact with that person or bring about a resolution to a conflict as they are constrained by operational factors, the business needs of the employing organization and laws relating to the equal and fair treatment of employees.
Agreements and Resolution
All of the above factors also constrain the parties involved in Workplace Mediation and prevent them from arriving at agreements or a resolution of their conflict that may impinge on their own employment rights or those of another person or that may have a significant impact on the employer’s business needs or operational requirements.
Workplace Mediation may be conducted by external or internal Mediators in different settings, with varying degrees of expertise:
- Professional Mediators who would normally hold NMAS Accreditation
- External agencies such as EmplEAP Providers, HR Consultancies and Employment Law Practices
- Internally trained managers/employees operating a ‘peer mediation’ service
- The use of ‘mediation skills’ by managers/supervisors in handling workplace conflict
There are of course also internally run mediations by untrained managers, HR Professionals or other consultants. This approach should be avoided as it can, in many cases, exacerbate and complicate workplace conflict.
Workplace mediation should also be contrasted with mediation used to settle formal workplace e disputes between trade unions and employee associations and employers. This type of “Employee Relations” or Industrial Relations mediation is not usually conducted by workplace mediators as describe here, though there is obvious overlap.