HR professionals play a very important part in helping achieve the resolution of workplace disputes. Often HR will be the first point of contact for an aggrieved employee. It may be that at that point all the employee wants is a private conversation with HR, with nothing further to happen. Alternatively, HR may suggest an informal resolution and may facilitate a discussion to that effect. There is always the option of a formal grievance being raised.
It is very important for HR professionals to understand when and how workplace mediation can be used to help find a solution to the problem. It should always be something which an HR manager has in mind. This also applies to HR advisors who are advising the organisation itself. The question will sometimes arise as to whether the HR advisor him or herself should conduct the mediation. There are many HR professionals who are also trained mediators, and therefore this may be the most efficient and cost effective way for the issue to be resolved.
Sometimes one or other of the parties concerned may not be entirely comfortable with an internal HR manager mediating that particular dispute. For example, if an employee is aggrieved at management and (rightly or wrongly) perceives that HR is likely to side with management’s point of view, then it may be that someone independent from the organisation is a more appropriate choice of mediator. Using someone from outwith the organisation could lead to those involved being more frank and up front in terms of what they are prepared to say. They know the mediator is completely independent and fully trust that he or she will not disclose anything which is said, unless they have agreed otherwise. Having said that, in a larger organisation this may be less of an issue where, for example, there are a number of HR managers spread across different locations and departments.
It is therefore important for the HR advisor to assess the position and consider two issues:
Might mediation be an appropriate way for this particular problem to be resolved?
If so, who is the person best placed to conduct the mediation?
At the end of the day, the outcome which everyone wants to see is a resolution to the problem. It is important to engage with those concerned, hear their views and together make a decision on the best approach. There will be cases where it is clear that mediation simply won’t work. There will be cases where it is felt appropriate to allow an internal procedure to run its course, at least in the first instance. Where mediation is considered helpful, at whatever stage, there will be cases where it can very efficiently be dealt with by someone within the organisation, and other cases where someone from outside the organisation needs to assist.