The World Health Organization defines Mental Health as a state of wellbeing in which individuals can realize their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life and work productively. Conflict occurs when individuals perceive an obstacle to achieving their goals, in essence conflict stems from an unmet need, and the role of a mediator in resolving conflict is to support parties to effectively communicate their needs in order to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.
According to figures by the Mental Health Centre, approx 1 in 6 employees are likely to be affected by a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Judging by the growth in the use of mediation in workplace disputes there is no time like the present for mediators to fully educate themselves on mental health issues in the workplace and the ensuing implications for workplace disputes.
Mediation starts from the premises that parties are ready to work collaboratively to reach a solution. In order to effectively utilise the mediation process parties need to be mentally robust. However what happens when the ability to clearly convey one’s needs is compromised? What can a mediator do prior to a mediation to ensure parties are mentally fit for the process?
The mediator must capitalise on rapport building to be able to honestly assess whether parties can fully co-operate and buy-in to the process. This goes beyond “how are you feeling” in this instance the mediator is not a subject matter expert seeking a diagnosis but rather a coach eliciting mental strength from parties.
Factors to consider include each party’s ability to follow the discussion and articulate opinions clearly. The mediator must empower the relevant party to express themselves as clearly as possible during the process.
The problematic issues for mediators in this area are often intrinsic. Professional mediators abide by a code of ethics including confidentiality within mediations and impartiality during the process i.e. neutrality. In disputes involving mental health conditions there may be instances where a mediator must fulfil their duty of care; likely scenarios leading to this involve suicidal threats or evidence of dependence on a substance like alcohol. However there is no generic rule for this as company policy will often set the tone in these occasions.
In relation to impartiality human beings are inquisitive beings; we thrive on our individual perceptions of what constitutes ‘normal’. Simply put, we are driven by curiosity to explain ordinary social interactions and when we do not have an explanation for a particular behaviour we attribute our own reasons & meanings (Attribution theory). The stigma around mental health often means that individuals are unaware of the facts around common conditions.
Mental health charity Time for Change, recently reported in a survey that:
“Stigma and discrimination has a profound impact on the lives of people with mental health problems. The overwhelming majority of people with mental health problems report being misunderstood by ...work colleagues and health professionals”
This increases the likelihood that in mediating cases involving parties with mental health conditions, mediators may be swayed by their own thoughts and perceptions of mental health and this can impact on their ability and willingness to accommodate parties.
In order to overcome this, mediators must be well informed about the nature of mental health in the workplace, and the mental health conditions.
If you would like to know more about best practice in managing conflict involving parties with mental health conditions, The PMA (Professional Mediators’ Association) will be hosting a learning event on 29th May on managing cases involving mental health conditions from a practitioner and party perspective. The event will feature guest presentations on the subject topic and facilitated group workshops on experiences in relation to managing conflicts in this field.
More details can be found here on the PMA website