Leading Aberdeen legal expert Lili Hunter has reported an upsurge in demand for her mediation services, as businesses adapt to the evolving world of workplace conflict.
According to the Ministry of Justice’s report published in March 2010, the government has saved approximately £90.2 million by using alternative dispute resolution. Courts and employment tribunals are also actively encouraging the use of mediation in order to reduce the general cost of conflict.
Conflict in the workplace is costly not just in terms of management time, but also directly affects the productivity of those involved, sickness absence levels, employment law claims by employees and legal costs in defending such claims. Following the review of statutory dispute resolution procedures, a new ACAS code of practice was issued in 2009. This statutory code encourages employers to consider mediation as an option in resolving disputes in the workplace.
“Mediation is fast, cost effective and has a high percentage success rate (usually over 80%). It is a very simple formula and that is why it makes so much sense in an economic climate that is still in recovery,” says Lili.
“As an employment lawyer I am called upon to recite legal procedures when advising employers. This normally involves disciplinary or grievance procedures at some level, but unfortunately these methods are often fatally destructive and expensive where human relationships are concerned.
“Mediation encourages those involved to look at why there is a problem, whereas raising a grievance involves framing what amounts to an accusation either against the employer or a colleague. This in turn is likely to evoke a defensive position or even a counter-attack.
“For example, an employee who claims to be suffering from stress may say that this is due to the bullying behaviour of their manager. If this individual is encouraged to put their complaint in writing, the end result can be a grievance detailing various alleged bullying or even discriminatory actions by the manager. This is finger-pointing not problem solving.”
Lili believes that a fundamental difficulty with taking a purely legal approach is that there is likely to be a winner and a loser and where personal feelings and pride are at stake, claims often ensue.
She continues: “Mediation offers the possibility of a different path. The main underlying principal is to find a win-win solution where the parties are not finding middle ground, but common ground.
“If employees and employers discuss the cause of the conflict and find a workable solution, even if this involves an agreed exit for one party, this is more likely to be a sustainable and claim-free option. The mediation process is confidential and without prejudice which means that nothing said or done in the mediation can be relied on in a legal action after the event and parties can fully explore all the issues and say exactly what they need to.
“Certain disputes will always require resort to employment law, but I believe that many difficult problems can be addressed with creative, alternative solutions which are aimed making the workplace ‘work’.”
Derek Auchie is a Senior Lecturer in Law at RGU. The Law Department there will be offering a Postgraduate Certificate in Mediation from 2011. Derek comments: “Mediation should hold a key place in the dispute resolution armoury of all employers.
“By definition, a relationship is in place, sometimes a long-standing one. Mediation can be particularly effective in resolving some of the deeper issues that can blight the employer-employee relationship. Often the real issues fuelling the dispute are under the surface and, unlike other resolution techniques, mediation can unearth these, leading to a more stable future.
“It is also usually quicker and cheaper than other available methods. Although it may not be suitable in all cases, it should be routinely considered.”
He added: “I am pleased that employment mediation is becoming more popular and I believe that this trend will continue. This has increased the need for quality, university level education in this area and the specialist course we are launching aims to meet this need.”
Lili Hunter Consulting and Lili Hunter Legal are located at 499 Union Street, Aberdeen, AB11 6DB. For further information visit www.lilihunter.com or call (01224) 228100.