HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Workplace Mediation
Most HR professionals dip their toes into the mediation pond at one point or another, so be prepared. How does the process work? What should you be prepared for during mediation? Legally speaking, what should you watch out for? Read on to learn that and more about workplace mediation.

What Is Workplace Mediation?

Workplace mediation is defined as managing conflict and resolving disagreements by utilizing an impartial person. While your organization may choose to pay an outside professional to help assist in mediation, more commonly these types of situations fall to HR.

What Are the Benefits of Workplace Mediation?

Let’s dive in to understand the specific benefits to workplace mediation and why it can be a positive in your organization.
  • Effective communication. Without question, mediation opens up dialogue for a way to effectively communicate feelings. Prior to mediation, those in question may not have had an environment to do so inside or outside of work, and mediation is that option.
  • Increased productivity. Employees are less likely to give you their all when they are in conflict. If they are afraid to ask questions of their manager or feel uncomfortable in their work environment, productivity will likely decrease. Mediation facilitates problem-solving to keep employee productivity high.
  • Long-term solutions. Mediation can broker long-term solutions like retaining quality employees vs. bandaging a solution that will only keep them around long enough to find a new job . Not only are you giving your employees the opportunity to effectively communicate, you are providing long-term solutions planning.
  • Safety. Most importantly, mediation provides safety that is critical for employee success and retention. When employees feel they have a safe space to communicate, you’re promoting more productive conversation and continued trust in your organization.

How Does the Workplace Mediation Process Work?

Now that you understand the importance of mediation and the benefits it can provide your organization, let’s look at how this process takes place in practice.

Step 1: Prepare

Take the time to prepare for mediation before you jump in. Make sure you have a safe location for individuals to express their feelings and speak openly, and ensure you have all the necessary information. If you’re dealing with an employee who feels they are being discriminated against by another employee, for example, you’ll want to arm yourself with your organization's discrimination policy and all the information you can on the topic to set you up for success.

Step 2: Conduct Mediation Sessions

Once you’ve done the necessary prep work, it’s time to jump in and conduct the sessions. Don’t think you’ll know who should be involved before you start your first session. You may think you understand the issue at hand, but as the session starts, you may find there are more employees involved or that more legwork is required. That’s common. Allow yourself to pull in more individuals and evaluate more information to come to a solution as you uncover the details of the issue.

Step 3: Resolve Conflicts

The main goal of mediation is to resolve the conflict and come to a collective agreement. There are a few common challenges to deal with.
  • Give them space to vent. Allow all parties involved to share their truth and work through the issues without fear of retaliation or invalidation. This can take the bulk of your time during mediation, but rightfully so, since it is the most important. All parties should be allowed the space to vent frustrations and effectively communicate the issues that brought them to mediation in the first place.
  • Don't get too hung up on minor issues. It can be easy for those involved to linger on a tiny detail because it offended them or really hit them wrong. Don't avoid the issue—allow for dialogue—but make sure to keep the mediation on track to finding a resolution and not dwelling on the problem.
  • Make sure everyone can speak. Don't let anyone dominate the sessions or simply complain. While mediation can be a great place for those involved to get issues off their chest, it’s not intended as just a complaint box, it’s a place to resolve the issues. Don’t allow one of those involved to take over the conversation so that the others aren’t given the same respect and avenue to resolve conflicts.
Make the point clear that these sessions are to help resolve the conflicts and move forward, and keep the conversations on task accordingly.

Step 4: Reach an Agreement

Once all the parties have expressed themselves thoroughly and feel heard, it's time to compromise and establish a way forward.
  • Ensure all issues have been discussed. You may have talked and then talked some more about everything under the sun related to this issue, but check once more before you close the discussion. Take a moment to ask each party involved if they feel heard and are ready to move forward with resolution.
  • Take some time to decide. The decision does not have to come to you immediately in the moment. It could take a few days for you to deliberate and consider all avenues to find the best resolution possible. Try not to take more than a few days, as those involved will be ready for an agreement to happen, but the priority here is that it’s a long-term solution for all.
  • Get the approvals in writing. Best practice here is to have those involved agree, and sign stating they agree with the resolution. You want to ensure that the company is protected from one of the parties coming back and saying that they didn’t agree and the resolution was one-sided. All parties should feel supported in leaving the conflict behind and moving forward feeling safe and having gotten something they wanted.

Step 5: Follow Up and Evaluate

After the agreements have been made and those in question are back to work, it's important to follow up and ensure the solution is working. You can do this by looping in managers to evaluate how the employees are working together now that the mediation has happened, or, if possible, you can observe them yourself. It’s also beneficial to follow up with the employees one-on-one to ensure they are feeling heard, supported, and trusted in their roles moving forward. You can ask how their work environment has been since the mediation and if they feel they have what they need to be successful now that an agreement has been made and implemented. Make sure you do not ignore this step. Follow-up truly makes all the difference here.

Key Skills for Workplace Mediators

Mediation is quite the task for any HR professional. Let’s look at the three main skills any mediator cannot be without.

Active Listening

During a mediation, those speaking may not be able to articulate their issues as effectively as you may like. It may be difficult to follow what they are saying or where they are going. By using active listening, you’re going to turn on that next level to really hear and retain the information in order to pull from this later in the discussion. In active listening, you can effectively repeat back what each individual believes to be true. This not only makes that person feel heard, but it helps you narrow down what the true issues are.

Conflict Resolution

Without the skill of conflict resolution, arriving at compromise won't be possible. You’re looking for the path of least resistance for those involved in the mediation. Take the time to put yourself in their shoes and find a solution that each individual will find to be a fair and sustainable way to resolve the conflict.

Trustworthiness

Unfortunately, this last skill cannot be added to your skills tool belt immediately before mediation. Trust is something HR professionals continually work towards with everyone in your organization. Mediation, however, is a great way to continue to build that bond of trust. In order to effectively mediate, everyone involved will need to have some level of trust in your objectivity, confidentiality, and professionalism. Take this very seriously. Spend the time investing in those in your organization so that when a mediation situation arises, you have the trust you need to effectively facilitate.
Let’s dive into the legal considerations your organization should consider for mediation in the workplace.

Understand Applicable Laws and Regulations

Most mediation issues require some knowledge of applicable laws. Whether it be understanding overtime pay regulations or harassment laws, your knowledge is essential to protecting your organization from legal consequences. While it may be easy to say “Yes, you’re right, you should get overtime because you are hourly and worked worked 42 hours, but most of our salaried employees work well over that regularly, so we aren’t paying the overtime,” that’s illegal, and knowing the overtime laws will allow you to provide solutions without opening your organization to risk.

Maintain Confidentiality and Privacy

Most of what is done in HR is private to some degree. Mediation is no different; if anything, it should be elevated to the next level of confidentiality. Your policies should list those that should be “in the know” about the outcome of mediation, and that typically includes executives, owners, and those directly involved. To protect the privacy of those in the mediation, managers often do not need to be looped in. Ensure your organization comes up with a policy for these types of discussions and follows it consistently to continually build trust and keep the risk of company gossip turning into a situation where those involved turn to outside litigation.

Document Mediation Agreements and Outcomes

One of the sayings during mediation is “Document everything.” During the mediation and as you follow up with employees and wrap up the case, keep detailed records. If an individual involved in the mediation sends you an email that is relevant, add it to the file. If you have a phone call with an individual involved outside of the formal discussions, document it. Record all you’re doing to ensure this issue is wrapped up professionally and then all you’ve done to ensure it stays that way. Keeping this information on file for your company can protect you against an employee stating you didn’t do anything to help them down the line and going outside the organization for litigation.

Avoid Discrimination and Bias

As a mediator, you’re supposed to be removed from the situation enough to effectively resolve it. You’re opening your organization to risk if you’re not able to be completely objective. If you find as you’re unraveling the situation that you might not be the best fit for the mediation role due to personal reasons or conflict of interest, reach out to your manager and ensure someone else can take over for you. It’s better to ensure objectivity than to keep pushing through with conscious or unconscious bias.
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Shalie Reich

Shalie Reich

Shalie has over 4 years of experience working in a variety of HR positions and organizations including: working as an HR department "of one", working with a start-up based in Europe, to working in a fully established robust USA based HR department. Shalie has experience in multiple states and countries with all aspects of the HR spectrum. She has a passion to share her knowledge and experience to benefit the HR profession!
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Employee Conflict Resolution
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