Workplace conflict can seriously undermine productivity. Research by CPP found that $359 billion of paid hours were lost in 2008 to poorly managed conflicts. A Randstad survey in 2018 found that more than half of workers have quit jobs due to chronic conflict.
To some extent, conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. When people are passionately involved in their work or under stress, differences of opinion can flare up, and sometimes personalities simply clash.
However, there is a great deal organisations can do to tackle workplace conflict head on, by preventing conflict situations, managing them, and bringing them to a safe resolution when they do occur.
In the course of developing resources to help organisations tackle workplace conflict, we’ve learned that resolving chronic conflict is a gradated process. Below we’ve provided an overview of that process, which could be a useful starting point for HRs and other decision-makers looking at this issue.
1. Understand conflict behaviour
Conflict is a complex psychological phenomenon, which is one reason why it’s frequently difficult to control. The first step to tackling endemic conflict in an organisation—and also to addressing a specific conflict—is to get a grip on the underlying drivers of conflict. These may stem from personal factors—such as the personalities of leaders—cultural factors, or even the nature of the work an organisation is engaged in.
2. Change company culture
In companies where conflict is seriously draining productivity, cultural change may be required. Company cultures can foster conflict in a variety of ways. For example, companies without strong vision-driven leadership are prone to conflict as multiple figures jostle to impose their vision or carve out their role. At other organisations, meeting styles may become more confrontational than collaborative.
3. Adopt conflict guidelines
The topic of conflict is often avoided altogether, even at organisations where conflict is a daily reality. This is unhelpful, and one way to tackle it is to set out clear guidelines for dealing with conflict, beginning with a definition of what constitutes a conflict in the workplace context. This provides a basis for employees to identify and discuss conflict-related issues.
4. Provide training in conflict resolution
It can be a worthwhile investment to provide training in conflict resolution to some or all employees. The skills of conflict resolution help colleagues to end disagreements with less damage to relationships and more satisfactory outcomes.
5. Implement after-care procedures
Even the four steps above cannot guarantee a conflict-free workplace. For this reason, it’s vital to implement proper procedures for those involved in conflict. These might include reporting procedures, the offer of counselling, and mechanisms for repairing relationships damaged by conflict.
Ultimately, the goal of conflict management is not merely to bring an end to situations which waste time and energy, but to create a workplace where conflict can be a productive, healthy and creative mechanism. That’s why we’re excited to be helping organisations get a grip on conflict through innovative elearning resources.
About the Author
Rory is the Head of Content at Real Projects. He strives to place employee wellbeing at the heart of the company’s elearning offering.