According to an ACAS research report in 2008, 7 per cent of managers had used mediation, and only a little over half, 56 per cent, had heard of it. The importance of mediation and early resolution of disputes is emphasised in the foreword to the Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

Mediation by an independent, impartial outsider can help to stop disputes before they escalate or help to build relationships once a grievance has been resolved and everyone is trying to get back to working “normally”.

The parties have to agree to the mediation in the first place. Managers may want to push mediation but you can't make someone engage in mediation, they have to volunteer and they have to want to do it.

The mediator will meet with each party separately, looking for common ground so that the parties can proceed to a joint meeting. The mediator works with the parties confidentially, encouraging them to talk about the issues and find their own solutions.

At the end of the mediation hopefully an agreement is reached about how to move forward. The mediator will try to encourage the parties to discuss with their managers what steps they have taken and will take to resolve the issue. This can be very helpful, as it allows managers to assist with the solution.

Mediation is a valuable tool for managers and can help avoid a protracted dispute that invariably leads to valuable resources both in time and money being diverted. Our experience is that mediation is rarely considered, and when it is used it is far too late and isn't conducted by an independent skilled mediator. It is worth remembering that if the relationship is worth saving, it pays to consider independent mediation at an early stage as there is much to be gained from it.

The ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures can be accessed here.