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Advantages and disadvantages of mediation

There’s a lot of hot air talked about mediation, so I thought I’d go back to basics and look the Advantages and Disadvantages straight in the eye. Here goes!

Advantages

Cost savings compared to formal process – An ACAS Research Paper[1] produced pretty convincing evidence of cost savings for mediation compared to the use of formal processes; as has the results of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ own mediation service.

There can be little doubt that the successful resolution of 27 cases has resulted in significant costs savings. Moreover, the Trust’s conclusion that mediation is cost-effective when compared with traditional procedures is convincing. At a basic level, the average cost of management, union and witness time in handling an issue through formal procedures is £4042, more than five times the direct cost of mediation (£695). Even if an estimate of the expense involved in initial mediation training6 is allocated across each case, the cost of mediation (£2223) is around 55% of the projected costs incurred through conventional processes.’ (ACAS)

But, this conclusion is reached despite scepticism regarding the link between formal cases and mediation. It is quite rightly pointed out that cases suitable for formal action may not be the same as those utilising mediation, and that mediated cases may in fact be an additional – or extra – caseload.

Cutting the cost of conflict – less well documented, but lots of anecdotal evidence and a (small but growing) body of data, is the positive impact of mediation on the cost of conflict, including potential savings on sickness absence, stress, avoidance of tribunal, time spent in formal grievance/fairness at work procedure.

Mediation achieves lasting closure and is owned by the parties – We canvas referrers and parties with a post-mediation evaluation at 3 months (and encourage in-house mediation services we train to do the same). Over 80% of people respond that mediation has had a ‘significant’ positive impact on communication and their working relationship with their colleague.

Mediation as a positive user experience – Our post mediation user questionnaires show very high ratings or satisfaction around fairness, feeling listened to, outcome, impact on learning and communication. Over 85% state that they would recommend the service to others.

Mediation works – Mediation has a resolution rate of 85% in CMP’s casework. This is particularly positive given that it is the complex, long-standing and entrenched cases which are most likely to be funded to go to external mediation providers like us.

Mediation can positively influence negative conflict cultures – There is growing evidence of the positive influence of mediation on conflict culture. In addition to the research by ACAS,  our contract with the Military Services to develop their internal mediation scheme has shown that the RAF perception of mediation is that it has a positive influence on a command and control culture.

Mediation moves things on quickly – often there is a lack of confidence in conflict management and dispute resolution practice and in particular grievances and disciplinaries are rarely completed inside the specified timescales.  Mediation provides a fast track to employees returning to work and being productive. The employer knows quickly whether this conflict is likely to develop into an expensive potential risk; or has been contained by mediation.

Disadvantages of mediation

No guarantee of a solution – mediation cannot guarantee an outcome, and consequently if mediation does not succeed it can be perceived as an additional cost, or the cause of delay in effectively processing grievances/complaints. Varying the model of mediation may mitigate this.

Parties just don’t like it – it’s a struggle to get HR to see the value of mediation, so that’s the first hurdle.  Then getting parties to say ‘yes’ to mediation is a whole other challenge. I believe that more than two-thirds of potential mediations don’t get to the mediation table. What a waste!

Reliant on co-operative, emotionally intelligent participants – mediation encourages people to work together, express concerns and share understanding. This is one of its great strengths, but during difficult workplace situations it can often be difficult for people to be positive and always do what is best for themselves. Co-operation with others also becomes difficult when negative perceptions and emotions hook in. Mediation does ask a lot from people. Varying the model of mediation to support people in accessing their constructive self, may mitigate this.

Power issues can prevent a fair outcome – although mediators work hard to balance power issues such as rank, status and ability to articulate and respond to concerns, power imbalances can still have a negative outcome on participation levels, perceptions of fairness and outcomes. The mediators have the power to facilitate but not adjudicate when unfair behaviour occurs within a mediation, or is at the centre of the dispute.

So those are my views – what do you think? I’d welcome your comments

1 ACAS Research paper 01/11 2011 Saundry et al

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