A sell-out conference from the Civil Mediation Council (CMC) – “Save Time, Save Money, Save Stress: Make Mediation Work for You” – has highlighted an upsurge of interest in workplace mediation.

The conference, held in front of a packed audience in the Old Library of Lloyd’s of London on February 1st, signals a dramatic shift in thinking from a mere acceptance of the benefits of mediation in the abstract, towards a desire from delegates for a more practical understanding. In particular, the conference set out to show how delegates could convince employers to use mediation as an integrated part of their conflict resolution offer.

Caroline Sheridan, Chair, CMC Workplace and Employment Group and Founder of Sheridan Resolutions, says: “All the feedback during and after the event shows it to have been an outstanding success. Mediation is achieving an accelerated rate of momentum as a means of addressing workplace disputes. What this audience wanted – and got – were the arguments and strategies in favour of its adoption and the confidence to anticipate and address the most likely challenges to its introduction.”

While workplace mediation has been more associated with the public sector in the past, a fascinating interactive audience polling session from  Professor Paul Latreille, Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning & Teaching, Sheffield University, revealed a near three-quarters (71%) private sector representation from among the senior-level audience. The desire for practical help was clear – nearly 4 in 5 (78%) had been aware of or experienced workplace conflict over the previous year – fuelled by an obvious business need to resolve disputes far more effectively The top 3 costs of workplace conflict identified by the audience were the damaging impact on management time (37%), a diminished motivation among parties in conflict (24%) and corrosive effects of workplace absence (14%).

After conference introductions from Sir Alan Ward (Chairman of the CMC) and Caroline Sheridan, Chair of the CMC Workplace and Employment Group, Sir Brendan Barber, Chairman of Acas, focused on helping audiences understand the circumstance in which mediation works best, namely around perceptions of unfairness and a lack of trust in workplace relations. And the main reason, Barber argued, why mediation is sometimes not introduced when it could lies in a lack of awareness of the strong business case of mediation.

Four fascinating, contrasting and practical case study presentations then followed. Mark Clements, Regional Head of HR, UK & Ireland, Sony Europe highlighted a 100% success rate from mediation efforts to date and large savings in costs. With the help of his HR team full of qualified mediators, he said, mediation crucially allowed participants the chance to genuinely listen to each other for the first time, in the process often revealing key misconceptions about the other party’s position. Robert Alcock, Head of Training at the BBC Academy, also highlighted high success rates, as well as the internal mediator’s own engagement through the enjoyable challenge he felt through helping others find their way through conflict at work. Pete Hodgson, Head of Employee Relations at Tesco Stores, urged delegates to make sure they spent enough time and on providing data and evidence to support the business case for mediation – the evidence is out there but line managers understandably want to know why they should invest in conflict resolution. And finally Karl Cockerill, Health & Wellbeing Practitioner and Mediation Coordinator at ELHT NHS Trust revealed his Damascene journey from arch mediation sceptic (even being labelled as the “Grievance King” by colleagues) to passionate convert to mediation. Once engaged, he argued, unions can play a pivotal role in improving the wellbeing of their members through this form of resolution.

David Whincup, Partner, Head of Employment at Squire Patton Boggs – dispelled lingering misconceptions of mediation as a “fluffy” option via a powerful legal perspective. Even when mediation fails, he said, much good usually follows from attempting to move parties closer to a resolution. Finally, Clive Lewis OBE, Founding Director of Globis Mediation Group, Fiona Colquhoun, CEDR Director, Acas Arbitrator & Executive Coach and Alex Efthymiades, Director and Co-Founder, Consensio weighed in with their views as part of a panel fielding insightful questions from a highly engaged audience.

The Civil Mediation Council is a membership body to promote mediation and dispute resolution. It believes that all sectors of society should look to mediation when managing and revolving disputes.