By Rupert McNeil

30 May 2018

Proven to reduce formal disputes, mediation is a vital tool for resolving conflicts at work. Chief people officer Rupert McNeil explains how government is re-launching its internal mediation service

People might experience conflict at work for a variety of reasons, from differences in opinions and priorities to personality clashes. Whenever people are engaged, passionate about their work and committed to their organisation, differences and disagreements are likely to occur.

However, it is important to realise that it is not the end of the world. On the contrary, disagreements can help us learn more about ourselves, our colleagues and organisations. Successful organisations are not the ones without conflicts but those capable of handling conflicts sensitively and constructively. That’s why more and more businesses are learning about benefits of mediation as one of the most effective tools for conflict resolution.

The civil service is the largest organisation providing internal workplace mediation in the UK and is currently operating a model that, on a scale, is not replicated anywhere else in the public or private sector. For example, even NHS trusts which train in-house mediators charge other trusts for the use of their mediators as a method of generating income. The Civil Service Mediation Service (CSMS) operates on a reciprocal basis, with around 40 different departments and agencies contributing. It means we can offer wider access to mediation across departments, where a department’s own mediator is not available.

The CSMS network consists of around 160 mediators. They are all trained externally by expert providers such as CMP Resolutions to ensure they all share the same level of accredited training.  Our experience shows no lack of interest from staff in being trained as mediators – they know that the listening skills, emotional intelligence and facilitation skills involved are going to be valuable for their career.

Mediation is a voluntary process organisations use to resolve conflict. It is commonly used to resolve conflict between colleagues or between managers and employees, with one or two qualified mediators who help both sides reach an agreement. Once arranged, mediation is usually concluded within one working day.  It involves separate discussions between the mediators and each party, followed by a joint meeting. The discussions and terms of the concluding agreement remain private. Mediation is entirely voluntary and can only take place if both parties agree.

Mediation works because it enables employees to use a mediator’s help to talk about concerns and agree a plan for resolving disputes and rebuilding their relationship. It offers a safe, confidential space where employees can communicate on an equal footing – grade and seniority are invisible in this forum. According to research conducted by ACAS, mediation is successful in 85-90% of cases. A study at East Sussex County Council showed that the impact of introducing mediation was a reduction in formal disputes, an increase of 5,800 productive days, as well as resulting in five employees returning to work following long-term sickness absence.

Other conflict resolution routes are usually lengthy, stressful for those involved (often resulting in sickness absence), and can impact on wider relationships in a team, or the effectiveness of its delivery. In addition, they are less likely to result in an outcome that both parties would consider good, which can make it difficult for people to get along and work together in future.

Managers have provided positive feedback on the value of mediation – particularly those who have experienced previous workplace conflicts leading to employment tribunals. When assessing the amount of time, pressure and stress experienced by the employees involved in resolving the conflict by formal means, mediation always compares favourably. The practice of the early years of the CSMS has highlighted the importance of having a range of data to demonstrate the value and impact of mediation support; the need for clarity on where mediators are located and their availability; how the service was and is now being used; and its effectiveness.

In March we launched a new approach for this service, with the CSMS providing additional direct support in finding available mediators. A notification form on outcomes is used alongside a participant survey to collate the data on departmental and overall service use. The re-launch will be backed up by a new package of internal communications to help raise awareness of the value of mediation to different audiences. The materials will highlight the business case for mediation and savings it represents both in management time and money, as well as signpost towards mediation as an opportunity to catch problems early and gain professional support, through briefing packs, blogs from senior managers and a short video.

Further information about the CSMS and how to access mediation support in your department is available from


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