Employment solicitor and workplace mediator at Hatch Brenner Solicitors in Norwich, Dionne Dury, discusses conflict in the workplace in a post-covid world and the effectiveness and importance of mediation ahead of the Civil Mediation Council (CMC) Dispute Resolution Roundtable this week, which Dionne will be attending.

 

Workplace Conflict in a post Pandemic world

Workplaces certainly look and feel different after the pandemic and for many, our ways of working

have been altered and are unlikely to return to what they were pre-COVID. For some, the changes have been welcomed. However, as workplace mediator and employment lawyer, I have certainly seen a rise in workplace conflict as a result of COVID and I believe that trend is set to continue as more people are being asked to return to the workplace and there are reluctant returners as well as unresolved conflict that has not been addressed during the lockdown.

I have been involved in advising and mediating in disputes where employers have heard employees who have felt reluctant to raise concerns during COVID; whether that’s due to not wishing to raise their concerns in a remote environment, feeling that managers have not properly addressed issues

due to remote working / a lack of training / not regularly checking in with staff members, or a fear of losing their job in such an uncertain job market is unclear.

So, with workplace conflict on the rise, what is the business case for informal conflict resolution and having mediation as a mandatory step in the resolution process?

 

The Cost of Conflict

A report recently published by Acas entitled “Estimating the costs of workplace conflict” by Professor Richard Saundry of the University of Sheffield Management School and Professor Peter Urwin of the Centre for Employment Research, University of Westminster carried out research into the impact of workplace conflict. The headline figures from the report speak for themselves with some 9.7 million employees experiencing workplace conflict each year at a cost to UK organisations of over £28.5 billion.

When talking about “cost”, this is not just the cash outlay but also the human cost of conflict in terms of the impact that unresolved conflict has on employee health and mental well-being. As well as breaking down the costs to organisations of unresolved conflict the report notes that over half of the employees (56%) who experienced conflict each year (nearly 5 million workers) suffered stress, anxiety or depression as a result and some 900,000 took time off work for that reason. Further, an estimated 85% of those affected by stress were likely to be displaying “presenteeism” i.e. working below par whilst ill rather than taking time off work.

 

Time for Change?

I have long been an advocate of the benefits of early informal conflict resolution, having witnessed first-hand the damage that formal processes can do; both reputationally for the organisation as well as emotionally for all of those involved in adversarial processes. I have previously written about the need for a change in the current systems, which tend to steer parties down a formal route to an outcome rather than someone explaining clearly and robustly, at an early stage in the dispute, the different options available for resolving the conflict.

Civil Mediation Council (CMC) Dispute Resolution Roundtable

As an active Committee member of the Civil Mediation Council’s Workplace and Employment group and on the back of Geoffrey Vos’ report and call for compulsory mediation in the resolution of civil disputes, I am excited to be involved in a roundtable event on 4 November 2021.

The Roundtable will be attended by key stakeholders from the Employment Tribunals, Acas, Professor Richard Saundry, to name but a few, and will discuss their views on:

  • the prospect of compulsory mediation in the workplace,
  • the key entry points for the different types of mediation (workplace, employment and judicial), and
  • how to implement changes to the current process to ensure both access to mediation at those key entry points and the embedding of mediation throughout the lifecycle of workplace disputes.

So, watch this space and my follow-up article to what will hopefully be the start of an exciting new chapter for conflict resolution in the workplace.

If you are a business owner and would like to learn more about workplace mediation and think it would benefit you and your staff, please contact Dionne today via [email protected], phone 01603 611800 or visit www.hatchbrenner.co.uk.