Mediation key to reducing costs of conflict for organisations - Graham Boyack

For many organisations, when conflicts arise the costs can be significant. That could be someone leaving and taking their valuable experience and sometimes clients with them, someone staying who really isn’t engaged anymore who brings the team down or, critically an increase in employee sickness absence and the organisational and human costs that can bring.

Last year ACAS put a figure on those costs and it came to £28.5 billion per year across the UK. That’s equivalent to £1000 per employee.

Beyond the money headlines it is important to understand that the impact is not just financial with employees more likely to experience stress, anxiety and depression as a result. When we’re talking about 10 million people, that has an impact on society as a whole.

There are three primary areas where organisations can reduce their cost of conflict. The first is to invest in early resolution. The second is to act early to repair relationships and on poor performance. The third is to rebalance their current reliance on formal procedures including courts and tribunals.

Graham Boyack, Director, Scottish Mediation

For Scottish Mediation, the report relates well to the experience of mediators working with organisations across Scotland. One of mediators’ biggest frustrations is being brought in at a point where people have been in formal processes for months and have still not had an open and honest conversation on what the conflict is about and how it might be resolved.

That’s why investment in early resolution is so important. Being able to have an early conversation can often allow for a better understanding of the underlying issues which are driving a dispute but aren’t always on the surface. To support early resolution organisations can adopt mediation as part of their procedures and support that through either in-house mediators or external support.

Acting early to repair relationships and on poor performance is easier to do if it is part of an organisation’s procedures but, critically, is better supported if the people leading those conversations are properly skilled in doing so. Those could be coaching skills, mediation skills or any skills using similar approaches. Scottish Mediation deliver mediation skills seminars and when explained, people pick them up very quickly and often reflect that they wish they’d had them sooner.

The fact that many disputes reaching employment tribunals and courts resolve in mediation suggests to me that not only is mediation effective, but also that its use earlier in disputes would be beneficial. I think one of the key barriers to doing so is the over-reliance on the formal court and tribunal processes outlined in the report. The difficulty with resolution at such a late stage is that it is also likely to mean people leaving their organisation and the loss of experience and knowledge in addition to the costs of getting there.

Investing in conflict competence, intervening is before official procedures kick in would be key priorities for me and it’s worth remembering that not all conflict is bad – that handled well it can be a positive creative force for organisational change.

If you’d like to know more and to find a mediator have a look on www.scottishmediation.org.uk.Graham Boyack, Director, Scottish Mediation

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