Saturday 16 November 2019

Mediation: it's the most useful approach to workplace disputes

No matter the size of your organisation, disputes can be part and parcel of the working day - and resolving them can be crucial for smooth running

Caroline Costigan
Caroline Costigan

Caroline Costigan

Like many multinational companies, Aramark has formal company procedures for resolving disputes in the workplace.

With close to 5,000 people employed in our company, disputes are part and parcel of the working day. Very rarely do they reach the point where formal company procedures have to be invoked but even day-to-day disputes, if left unresolved, can fester and impact on working relationships.

It is also true that while formal procedures are valuable when appropriate, by their nature they can be challenging in terms of maintaining positive working relationships after the formal process is concluded.

As a company which is committed to health and wellness in the workplace, we recognised that a 'one size fits all' approach to dispute resolution was not working for our employees or for our company.

We needed different ways to resolve workplace disputes depending on the type of issue being addressed. We wanted a process which would facilitate employees to resolve their difficulties while at the same time enhancing their working relationship.

Workplace mediation was a new concept, not only for our business and our employees, but to our industry. It was very clear that the process offered tangible benefits as a means of facilitating employees to engage in an open and constructive way to resolve their disputes.

With the support of the CEO, the human resources department invested significant resources to embed workplace mediation within the company. This included training two HR executives to act as mediators in a dispute; updating HR policies and providing training to the management team to include and promote the process of mediation with their teams.

The results have been very rewarding and we have seen an improvement in employee relations which we can link directly to the promotion of workplace mediation within our company.

Some of the most difficult relationships between employees, often with a long history, are being resolved through mediation.

There are other benefits too. Managers are more confident dealing with employee complaints. Very often in the past the default option is to instigate a formal investigation for every complaint.

Now managers are thinking of mediation at an early stage and reaching to its processes. With less time being spent on dispute resolution, we are seeing increased productivity across the company.

What is even more interesting is how the impact of mediation is extending to other areas of our business. We are seeing managers applying learnings from their experiences with mediation within their teams to how they manage other aspects of their business.

The benefits of coaching and in particular the soft skills gained in understanding mediation are far-reaching.

The successful introduction of mediation in the workplace at Aramark Ireland provides an example for others to follow. Key to our success has been:

• A commitment to the process from the CEO and management team with dedicated resources provided to the HR department to introduce mediation into Aramark.

• A robust mediation policy that provides clear guidance, sets expectations and supports our employees in making informed decisions within the process.

• Training skilled 'contact people' who are equipped to provide independent and objective guidance to employees on their options with regards to having their concerns heard and resolved.

• Requiring all people managers within our organisation to attend a quarterly workshop which includes training on informal approach to managing workplace complaints and updates on mediation.

All of the above is underpinned by a management team which believes in the value of mediation. Clear communication and the development and coaching implemented by the HR team has resulted in mediation being embraced by our organisation.

As a company, we have seen the positive benefits it brings to our organisation and we continue to promote its importance and celebrate its successes.

Caroline Costigan is HR director at Aramark Ireland

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