University College London (UCL) is London’s leading multidisciplinary university, employing more than 13,000 people and working with 38,000 students in 150 different countries. UCL has worked with CiC, experts in employee wellbeing, for the last seven years to deliver an external mediation programme that aims to proactively manage conflict within the workplace.
“The organisational culture at UCL should contribute to a conducive environment for our employees to work in and for our students to study in. This means that where employee relations issues do arise, we can resolve them quickly and promptly,” said Charles Oboh, the previous Director of HR Advisory Services in UCL’s Human Resources Division.
“When we began working with CiC, we had identified a number of cases that we needed to resolve but we were reluctant to put formal processes in place to do so. We wanted to resolve disciplinary cases, conflict and difficulties between line managers or team members in an impartial way and external mediation provided us with the perfect solution.
“When adopting external mediation as a tool to resolve conflict it was important for us to consider the economic environment that we operate in, where organisations are under pressure to perform and where there are tough targets and increasing workloads for employees. Here it’s easy for conflict to creep into the everyday and, if left unchecked, can fester and escalate.
By working alongside experts who are external to what’s going on and aren’t interested in the politics, we can reach a lasting solution much more quickly, something which has clear benefits for the individuals involved and the wider organisation,” said Charles.
“External mediators can be trusted by all parties because they’re independent to the organisation. And when mediation goes well – as it has done with CiC since we began working together – we can reduce the time taken to resolve dispute which has the benefit of building successful teams and increasing productivity and focus,” he continues.
“CiC has been consistently proactive and has helped us to really understand how the external mediation process works. They have attended team meetings to explain it and held refresher sessions for our HR Business Partners on the benefits of mediation and how it works so that they can refer employees to CiC with confidence,” explained Charles.
CiC’s Timmy Kurtuldum agrees: “We have developed a partnership approach to working together when it comes to delivering external mediation and the UCL HR team have got referrals to us down to a fine art. If the HR team think that a case will be suitable for mediation, we work closely together to assess its feasibility. If we agree to go ahead referrals can be actioned within as little as two days – it really depends on the nature of the case – but most are taken up within one week. UCL has made it a priority to promote this service so clear communication is vital to success”
“Our mediators have diverse backgrounds and are trained to manage very complicated cases in a confidential environment. Their impartiality is vital to the mediation process and because they have no ties to the organisation we can help to ensure that we reach a solution that will be agreed by all parties,” added Timmy Kurtuldum, CiC’s Training Manager.
Since 2011 CiC has undertaken nearly 82 mediations with employees at UCL and over this time the interventions have achieved a 92.30% success rate.
“For us, it has been key that external mediation provides strong support for our managers when it comes to employee relations and its introduction has certainly reduced the amount of formal casework, enabling us to avoid lengthy hearings. Ultimately this means our managers and employees have the time to focus on corporate objectives and do the work they have been recruited to do.” said Charles.
The UCL HR Division has recently been through a restructure, which has resulted in the HR Advisory Services being reshaped into an HR Business Partnering Team and a separate Employee Relations Team. The mediation service has been retained as a key and valuable approach to handling and resolving personal disputes.