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Confusion about the difference between mediation and arbitration is becoming more prevalent.  There is a desire, particularly during times of acute stress, for individuals to abdicate responsibility. People want someone else to sort it out.

That’s the fundamental difference between mediation and arbitration. In arbitration, the two parties abdicate decision making responsibility to a third party. The arbitrator’s decision is final. Both sides must agree to accept that decision.

Mediation means people have more control.  By working with both parties, the mediator helps the people involved to have the best conversation they can; sometimes parties speak through the mediator if it is too difficult to speak directly to the other party.  However, the responsibility to resolve the issue sits with the individuals.  At no stage do they abdicate responsibility or decision making to the mediator.

Sometimes the two parties have no common ground.  In this case, the mediator can help signpost towards arbitration. This takes control away from the two parties. It’s worth noting that at this stage, the conflict will be impacting the whole organisation, which can be costly and destructive.

In the acas research paper Estimating the costs of workplace conflict (2021) by Prof Richard Saundry and Prof Peter Urwin, analysis shows that poorly handled conflict comes at a huge cost to UK business: £28.5 billion each year, the equivalent of more than £1,000 for every employee.  These costs are broken down into constituent elements, and a whopping £12.8 billion is spent in the UK every year on formal grievance and disciplinary procedures.

However, before a dispute reaches a formal stage, the cost of resignations, absenteeism and presenteeism on the workplace has an annual cost of £14.7billion, every year. Acas suggest only 15% of cases are handled through a mediation route.

This surprises me when mediation can significantly reduce these costs.  Early intervention is key. It can save thousands of pounds and it can ensure good staff are retained in the organisation.

Abdicating responsibility through an arbitration process can leave one or both parties bruised, or dissatisfied.  The arbitrator’s decision is final. There is no recourse, other than to go to employment tribunal.  Getting someone else to sort out a problem can seem appealing in the heat of an argument, but individuals need to think through the consequences.  They can often work through the dispute themselves, with the help of a third-party mediator. The results can be less brutal.

So, if any of the above sounds familiar, or if you think you have conflict situations in your workplace, take action now. The worst thing you can do is to do nothing.  Often people put off contacting me because they expect a mediation to be a costly. Leaving conflict unaddressed is more costly to the individuals in conflict and the wider organisation.  Through addressing conflict effectively, the organisation enhances well-being, encourages staff retention and allows individuals to thrive.