I heard recently about a large workplace which has a sign promoting “‘staff mediators” to help internally with problems between colleagues or within different teams. I have to say that my initial reaction was mixed.

Full marks for promoting mediation, which can be extremely effective in helping to resolve workplace issues. But I also had a niggling feeling that this was letting management and potentially team members rather ‘off the hook’ and in a sense, absolving them from taking responsibility. Rephrasing Chilcot on Iraq, mediation, in the workplace at least, should not be the last resort!

 We have a responsibility in the workplace to get along and compromise as well as follow our roles to the best of our abilities. I think that calling in a mediator every time we have a problem in a working, or indeed any other type of relationship, all of which take time and effort to work on,  is shirking it.

I looked up the ACAS Guide to Mediation (Feb 2013), a good document, which rightly extols the benefits of mediation. I am pleased to say it does concur with me on this. It states that mediation should not be used “by a manager to avoid managerial responsibilities”.

The Guide quotes the Labour Force Survey for 2011-12 to the effect that 428,000 people at work suffered from stress, depression or anxiety and further research indicates that by 2014/15 this figure had increased to  440,000.  It is important to caveat that this does not mean all such conditions were caused, either wholly or in part, by work or the workplace.  But it’s still a lot. 

I have no doubt that mediation could help the managers and team leaders working in this particular workplace to resolve cases which appear to be intractable. From the employers’ perspective the Guide refers extensively to the cost of workplace conflict in terms of management time, sickness costs, staff turnover and recruitment costs, and external reputation.  Workplace situations are akin to family situations in that we see our colleagues as much and in many cases more than we do our families.  Just as other family members can be infected by a dispute between two of its members, so an ‘atmosphere’ at work can be very debilitating in terms of wellbeing and morale for all ‘on the floor’. 

Mediation is a matter of the right method at the right time.  

So here’s to mediation in the workplace, although not necessarily the first resort, or the last!