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It works, so why aren't more people using mediation?

In 2008, a survey found that 99 per cent of organisations that had used mediation said that it was a good tool for resolving workplace disputes. Yet in a recent survey for the Workplace Employment Relations Study, only 7 per cent of workplaces had used mediation to resolve a dispute in the last 12 months.

Why mediation may not have the place it should in an organisation's conflict-resolution repertoire was the question posed by a recent Acas comment paper, pdf  Mediation - whose story is it anyway? [108kb] Given the benefits of mediation, both from an organisational and individual point of view, its absence seemed puzzling.

Being voluntary, confidential and driven more by the needs of each party rather than formal processes, mediation appears to offer a less stressful and costly way to unpick workplace problems than many other methods. It's particularly suited to relationship breakdown, and seeks to embrace transformative change to improve individual behaviour and attitudes.

To find this level of change, mediation necessarily may have to dig deeply into personal workplace problems, which participants can find challenging. During the process the balance of power between managers and staff can be affected, which can be unsettling for both sides as each comes to terms with their responsibility for any problems. The fruit of this, though, is that both parties have 'ownership' of the outcome, enhancing mutual trust.

The report found that a stumbling block to more widespread use of mediation was that the complex issues demanded not only the input of highly skilled mediators, but a great deal of trust and emotional resilience from the participants.

Deep-rooted issues require follow-up sessions, which could be too costly and inconvenient for organisations without a trained in-house mediator. Without extra sessions, participants were found to be concerned that problem behaviours could re-emerge further down the line.

The second major obstruction to further use was related to one of its prime benefits - confidentiality. By its nature, this was found to throw up limitations to how much an organisation as a whole could be changed through mediation.

The paper recommended organisations become 'more open about talking about emotional aspects of relations at work', so that participants aren't left to disclose difficult personal problems in a closed and potentially isolating and unsupported setting.

Recognising its great value in changing attitudes, and resolving and preventing conflict, the paper urged organisations to support and train employees and managers about how and when mediation works best.

As well as having an excellent track record in resolving disputes with its own independent expert mediators, Acas can help employers and employees manage their own conflicts through Mediation and Conflict management training.

Acas can help you develop your own workplace mediation scheme with guidance on how to integrate mediation into your organisation. This can include training your own workplace mediators and accrediting them with the Certificate in Internal Workplace Mediation.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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