Having positive relationships with clients, customers and especially staff is the secret to success of any business. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for an organisation to go through its life cycle without incurring any workplace differences or disputes.

From time to time conflicts arise and whilst those may be swallowed up easily by larger corporations, unrest within an SME can cause serious disruption to daily operations. When it comes to employment disputes, employers should certainly look at involving a third party, but before taking matters to the court, workplace mediation should be considered.

Typical disputes

Serial entrepreneur, Richard Branson once said: “Look after your staff and they’ll look after your customers.” It really is that simple. But with employment legislation constantly on the move and today’s workforce hungry for more flexibility, business owners or managers with no designated HR function can often struggle to keep up with demand. However, even those who stay up-to-date are still at risk as workplace disputes often arise when two or more employees are not getting on.

If any issues amongst a team remain unresolved, businesses risk it having a knock-on effect on service or even customers. This is where the mediation process should come to the fore. It can be used to resolve any kind of dispute or differences but broadly speaking, typical issues include the following:

  • A relationship that has broken down with two or more colleagues
  • A grievance between employees or an employer/ manager and employee.


Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process facilitated by the mediator, an independent and impartial third party which aims to assist participants to reach an agreed solution. It can be used to resolve disputes quickly and effectively with minimum expense, allowing business owners to focus on what matters the most.

It should ideally be used early on before a situation worsens, however, can be introduced at any time during the course of a dispute. In the latter scenario, if any internal workplace proceedings have begun these can be put on hold whilst a business tries mediation as an alternative to following any company procedures.


Workplace mediation is aimed at people who want to try to resolve a dispute and reach an amicable agreement. Facilitated by an external HR practitioner, mediation provides each party the chance to voice their thoughts and feelings about the situation, and gives them the opportunity and environment explores the views of the other party.

The participants take complete control of the outcome and shape the solution, meaning that the process can last anywhere from a 30 minutes to a good few hours. However, businesses can expect to have some sort or resolution and agreement as to how to move forward within a day. This is considerably less compared to internal grievance procedures that can last a few weeks and often take business managers or owners away from their roles.

Author is Nina Mcloughlin, founder and managing director at Envoy Human Capital.

Nina Mcloughlin is a qualified HR practitioner and mediator, with a wealth of experience in employment law and HR best practice.

Envoy Human Capital Ltd provides a complete range of HR services to SMEs. The business has significant experience in providing day to day and ad hoc support to businesses across a spectrum of sectors, including manufacturing, financial, retail and healthcare.