Getting employees and managers to talk before formal grievance procedures begin can save time, money and long-term negativity
By Karl Cockerill
We first set up our in-house mediation scheme at NHS East Lancashire in 2008. I remember that our interim HR director tried to convince me that the way forward was to bring in mediation and to move away from a reliance on formal processes to resolve workplace conflict.
In addition to creating a shift in how the trust dealt with conflict, it was anticipated that mediation would reap some real benefits to the organisation in terms of time and cost savings.
As an active shop steward I had previously been known as “the grievance king”. I did not understand that formal processes had a long-term negative effect, which would breed negativity towards partnership. Grievances are personal so they always cause more conflict. I thought that mediation would be a way for managers to stop grievance procedures.
The interim director of HR became an internal ‘change consultant’ within the trust and focused on creating the right environment for implementing the mediation scheme.
The trust appointed conflict management and mediation specialists, Consensio, to deliver accredited training for a pool of mediators. The change consultant worked very closely with Consensio to ensure that they understood local issues and could personalise the course to meet our very specific needs.
I personally took their accredited mediation training course and, since becoming one of the co-ordinators of the scheme, I can truly say that things have changed a lot for me. I can’t go into any meeting relating to potential bullying or negative behaviour towards staff without thinking that mediation might resolve the issue.
We now have a team of 15 internal mediators who have completed 34 internal mediation cases – 33 of these cases have resulted in a written agreement. As mediation co-ordinator, I promote the service with frontline staff and co-ordinate the set up of mediations, including the sensitive discussions with parties prior to mediation.
We hold regular mediator network meetings and continuing professional development events to ensure that we are maintaining best practice and have also created an evaluation framework to examine the effectiveness and sustainability of the scheme.
Within the first 18 months of our scheme, we saw a 60% reduction in formal processes (grievances and fair treatment cases), a 96% success rate measured by written mediation agreements, and over £200,000 in cost savings. There has also been a shift in culture change within the trust. The significant cost-savings have already far outweighed the initial cost of setting up and resourcing the scheme.
Our scheme has reaped quantitative and qualitative benefits for the trust at a rapid pace, and will continue to do so into the future. This is an important consideration for other organisations that are thinking about implementing mediation into their policies and practices: firstly, results can be and have been achieved very quickly; and secondly, the initial costs of setting up an in-house scheme are quickly outweighed by future cost and time savings.
I strongly believe that if you can get people around a table, you can resolve anything and I have never been so committed to anything before. This is due to the positive things that have happened since our scheme was set up and which have taught me so much.
A much fuller white paper regarding this particular scheme examines key milestones and the lessons to be learned for other organisations that want to implement or further develop their own in-house mediation scheme.
Karl Cockerill, alternative dispute resolution lead and mediation coordinator for NHS East Lancashire