When to engage an external mediator?

Vince Scopelliti - Friday, November 27, 2020

By Katherine Robertson

Safe Work Australia research has found poor psychological safety costs organisations $6 billion per annum in lost productivity. The research also found interpersonal conflict was one of the main causes of work-related injury.   

It is essential that organisations have access to trained workplace mediators as they can be a valuable resource in resolving conflict amongst employees. Not all organisations have internal mediators and there are times when engaging an external mediator is advantageous.

Perception of alignment

When aggrieved employees feel their employer, or HR department is aligned with the other party to a dispute, whether this is real or perceived, it is often an indication that involving an external mediator will lead to better outcomes. External mediators do not have prior knowledge going into the mediation and only obtain information from the aggrieved employees to assess suitability for mediation. This means the mediator is only invested in the outcome being positive for all parties involved and not invested in a particular outcome.

Prior attempts to resolve conflict internally

Often as a first step, HR departments with the support of Senior Management seek to resolve conflict between their employees as a ‘soft touch approach’. This is often a good first step but if conflict is not resolved here, it can often lead to escalation, employees feeling nothing will change and also lead to an increase in sick days. If organisations have attempted the ‘soft touch’ approach to no avail, seeking the support of an external mediator can help offer a fresh perspective and support parties to reach agreements. 

Image: an external mediator can avoid the frustration of emotional appeals from parties.

High and complex conflict

Often HR professional become aware of conflict between employees when it has already escalated, become deeply engrained and is starting to have adverse effects across teams. Often in these situations a ‘soft touch’ approach will not resolve the conflict and engaging an external mediator is warranted.  Expert mediators can explore and uncover what is underlying the conflict and from there support parties to reach mutually accepted agreements on how they want to work with one another moving forward. External mediators adopt a strengths based, and solution focussed framework to support aggrieved employees reach practical workable agreements that are long lasting.

The need for practical future focussed agreements

Engaging an external mediator that does not know the day to day operations of the business can be advantageous because when it comes to supporting parties reach practical agreements they can often shed new light on areas that may not have been considered by HR and Management. Expert mediators are trained to support employees reach practical agreements by workshopping possible solutions and ensuring they are aligned with their organisational values.


WISE offers mediation and conflict resolution services in each state, which we can conduct remotely or in person. 

Get in touch with us on 1300 580 685 for more information, and be on the lookout for our next article on the Key Principles of Conflict Resolution.

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