More often than not, workplace investigations are a result of previous behaviours, issues or incidents being overlooked and allowed to escalate into formal grievances.

In 2021, Acas published a report estimating that workplace conflict costs UK employers £28.5 billion every year, and suggested a primary cause for these astronomical figures was poor conflict management and a failure by employers to deal with conflict quickly.

Mediation is an effective, confidential process for resolving workplace conflict and relationship breakdowns swiftly and informally. Through facilitated discussion, it encourages open communication and self-reflection, and provides a supportive space for all parties involved to explain their version of events and work together to reach a mutually agreed outcome.

An investigation is a formal process for allegations of discrimination and unfair treatment under the Equality Act 2010, bullying and harassment, and breach of policies/procedures. The primary objective of an investigation is to gather evidence and determine the facts to ascertain whether a complaint can be upheld and acted upon.

When should you mediate and when should you investigate?

Let’s take a quick quiz:

  1. Have you received a complaint relating to interpersonal conflict or relationship breakdown?

Yes: Mediation.

For complaints relating to serious misconduct, a formal investigation is required.

  1. Is this the first time the conflict or dispute has occurred between the parties involved?

Yes: Mediation.

It is important to address workplace disagreements swiftly and before feelings of discontent continue to grow and fester. It may also be the case that the individual whom the complaint has been brought against is unaware of the impact of their behaviour; therefore, mediation provides a space to listen to their colleague’s experience and adjust their behaviour to avoid the conflict from reoccurring.

  1. Are the parties involved willing to resolve the issue and move forwards in their working relationship?

Yes: Mediation.

Mediation is a voluntary process and therefore requires the participation of all parties involved. By engaging in mediation, all parties need to be committed to reaching a resolution and be proactive in maintaining their agreement ongoing.

What if mediation doesn’t work?

In my experience, in cases where an individual is unaware of the impact of their behaviour, mediation is an effective and successful process. However, where an individual doesn’t care about the impact of their behaviour, an investigation is your best route.

Similarly, if you are unable to reach a resolution through mediation, an employee may decide to make a formal complaint. In this case, a formal investigation would need to be conducted.

What are the benefits of using an independent mediator?

Mediation is not simply having a chat or throwing everyone into a room together to thrash it out. Independent mediators are skilled in creating safe and structured environments, managing the process to ensure everyone involved is given the uninterrupted space to tell their side of the story. Similarly, they are able to impart valuable listening, empathy and self-reflection skills to ensure those involved can self-manage future disputes. Most importantly, an independent mediator is completely impartial, providing a fair and unbiased approach to conflict resolution.

At Tell Jane, our independent mediators are highly experienced in resolving a wide range of workplace conflicts, including sensitive allegations of bullying and harassment. To find out more, head to the Mediation section of our website here or get in touch.

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