Mandatory Mediation -Time for a New Approach?

September 14th, 2021

The need for investing in early and informal conflict resolution has never been greater. I have said many times before that employers should adopt a strategic approach to resolution and that the formal grievance has had its day. Research does suggest that more and more employers are turning to mediation and early resolution but all too often the grievance process is the “go to” for both employees and the organisation. This needs to change dramatically and the calls for early informal resolution being a mandatory first step are gathering pace. Here’s why.

Cost of conflict

A recent ACAS research report estimates that the pre-pandemic cost of conflict is a staggering £28.5 billion, equating to £1000 per employee.

The report acknowledges that “investment in effective and early resolution designed to build positive employment relationships may have a very significant return”. Costs were reduced where there was early intervention; conversely where conflict spiralled into formal procedures the costs also spiralled to more than 3 times the costs associated with informal resolution.

The greatest costs arise when the conflict leads to staff leaving. Accordingly, organisations need to place much greater emphasis on repairing employment relationships and taking action at early points to address issues of capability and poor performance. It is recognised that in order to achieve this, managers need to be provided with the core people skills to have quality interactions with their staff.

The report concluded that the results provide strong arguments for a rebalancing of policy – decreasing the emphasis on legal compliance and effectiveness of the tribunal system, towards the resolution of conflict within organisations.

Rise in workplace conflict

There is evidence to suggest that the incidence of workplace conflict is on the rise, and we are certainly seeing an increase in enquiries and instructions. The challenges that people have been coping with during the pandemic with lockdowns, remote working, isolation, home schooling, furlough and financial concerns are just some of the additional stressors that are impacting on workplace relationships. There may well be more to come as employees, managers and organisations struggle to adapt to new ways of working, deal with issues relating to a return to the workplace and the potential acceleration of automation.

Many businesses have been impacted financially and need to focus on recovery; in some sectors there are staff shortages in addition to increased costs. The cost of dealing with conflicts and the consequent additional staff losses could be the last straw; making early and effective intervention even more imperative.

The management skills in dealing with these issues are also key here, the need for consultation and real communication, feedback and listening to employees’ concerns will go a long way to avoid issues arising in the first place. Alarmingly surveys suggest that over 39% of employees have not been consulted about returning to the workplace and around 23% of employees reported that they had some anxieties around returning.

Success rates

Mediation is proven to be successful in the vast majority of cases. A recent survey regarding all types of mediation found that the proportion of mediations settling has increased from 89% in 2018 to 93% (72% settling on the day of the mediation and another 21% shortly afterwards).

In workplace situations, success rates are sometimes difficult to quantify but rates of between 80-90% are often referred to. Disputes, conflicts or misunderstandings can often be resolved effectively and quickly with a saving of relationships and huge costs. The business case is clear and these approaches are proven to be far more successful and less costly than the alternatives. So why not compel parties to try informal approaches?

Some employers have successfully implemented Resolution Policies that replace the traditional formal processes and have conflict resolution as a first step. More need to follow suit as the grievance process is no longer fit for purpose, it satisfies no one and generally makes the position much worse at huge cost to all.

Mandatory mediation

The move towards mandatory mediation may have taken a step forward by a report by the Civil Justice Council which concludes that compulsory mediation is lawful and that alternative dispute resolution should be an integral part of a resolution process in legal disputes. This report opens the door to a significant shift towards earlier resolution in legal proceedings.

This has sparked a debate about the benefits and value of mediation which is very welcome, it is hoped that a similar debate will take place in respect of workplace conflicts.

For further information about mediation and conflict resolution and how to move towards resolution rather than grievance please do not hesitate to contact [email protected], more information at


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The report was very professional, it dealt with all the issues raised and was particularly thorough. It clearly took the time to fully understand all of the issues and background. It was complex but the report really helped to break it down and I’m hoping we can progress in a positive manner following the recommendations.

Group HR Manager, Energy Sector |

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