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On our blog, we share news, opinions, and our vision on business mediation. This way, we stay sharp and informed, and we bring you along with us.

An exit with mediation can work liberating.

Most people think of mediation as a peacemaker. Yet there are also other situations in which in main value of mediation is in bringing movement into a situation that is otherwise stuck. I was involved in several such cases. 

What I noticed was that discontinuing an employment relationship was considered, or even secretly desired, by both the employer and the employee, but both sides were highly reluctant to initiate that conversation. Mostly for legal considerations and against a background of broken communication and damaged trust. 

Situations like these can become more sensitive and difficult when they involve an employee who is on (burnout-related) sick leave. In the Netherlands, one in five workers suffers from burnout symptoms. Burnout is typically a result of the combined effect of multiple stress-hightening factors. Conflict at work is sometimes one of them. While the average sick leave period for burnout is around one month, the existence of unresolved conflict may make the recovery period longer and decrease the motivation to return. 

Dismissal of employees during illness is no easy thing under Dutch law (with a permanent contract, there’s a general prohibition for two years, with some exceptions). Many employers take a very cautious approach in how they handle such delicate situations, and altogether avoid any talk about exit for as long as the sick leave is ongoing. Such cautiousness however comes with the price of unclarity, and leads to reintegration, even when this is not the common wil of the parties. 

In the situations as described above, mediation, which takes place in strict confidentiality under the guidance of a neutral and independent mediator, provides a safe space where a true conversation can take place, without any of the sides having to worry about the consequences of bringing it up. The clarity that this brings is what allows movement out of the stuck situation. The crucial value of the mediation is in making that movement possible, and putting the parties on track of the conversation that was needed.

Structured conflict resolution helps to manage the people, the problem and the process.