Work forms a major part of our life, in fact it's estimated that we spend a third of our lifetime in work and we will have three major disputes over the years with colleagues, clients and even the boss! Small disagreements in the workplace will occur more frequently, approximately 15 times a year. If these disagreements are not dealt with effectively there are major cost implications to consider when dealing with grievance, disciplinary and tribunal processes, not to mention the negative impact on employee health and wellbeing.
So, it was no surprise to receive a workplace mediation referral which emanated from a throw away comment made by one team member, which offended another and feelings were hurt. Because there was no dialogue directly after the incident, the negative feelings began to fester and a formal complaint was made by the offended colleague. This led to a long drawn out investigation, involving other team members and resulted in strained relationships and a division amongst the once strong and efficient team. The protagonists of the dispute both suffered, with one feeling ostracised by work colleagues and the other being absent from work for 6 months due to stress which resulted in mental health problems and suicidal thoughts.
The mediation was referred as a result of the grievance/disciplinary procedure. A meeting was arranged between the parties, initially involving the main two protagonists They were able to discuss the initial incident and their perceptions of it and were able to clear up the misunderstandings that took place that perpetuated the situation and subsequently develop understanding from each others perspectives. They felt that had they had the opportunity to sit down with an impartial third party initially, the situation would not have deteriorated to the extent that it had.
A second meeting was arranged involving all the team members. They were able to express and discuss the impact of the situation from their own individual perspective, identify what was needed to restore the equilibrium to the team and what strategies were needed to enable them to work effectively together for the future. Mutually acceptable agreements were reached at both meetings and all parties expressed disappointment at not being offered mediation at the outset.
The cost of unresolved conflict in the workplace is immense, from reduced employee productivity and higher absenteeism to stress and loss of customers, as employees in conflict often are not capable of representing your organisations in its best light. Additionally, don't forget management time that gets taken up by conflict and the impact on wider team members.
The CBI estimates that workplace conflict costs UK business £33 billion per year, taking up to 20% of leadership time and potentially losing up to 370 million working days. Can you really afford not to mediate?