The modern workplace has witnessed a noticeable increase in conflicts in recent years. This phenomenon has not only strained relationships among employees, but has also incurred significant financial costs for organisations.
This article delves into the reasons behind this surge, examines its economic implications, and offers proactive strategies for employers to effectively mitigate and resolve these issues.
Understanding the increase
There are several factors contribute to the rise in workplace conflict, including:
- Diversity and inclusion – whilst diversity is an asset, hiring employees with varying backgrounds, values and beliefs can also lead to misunderstandings and conflict if not managed effectively.
- Remote work – the proliferation of remote working, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has altered the dynamics of workplace interactions. Isolation, miscommunication and blurred boundaries have increased the likelihood of conflict.
- Stress and burnout – employees face heightened levels of stress, exacerbated by uncertain economic conditions, which can manifest as conflict when people feel overwhelmed.
- Digital communication – the absence of face-to-face interaction can make it challenging to read emotions accurately. Overreliance on digital communication channels can lead to misinterpretation, miscommunication and, ultimately, conflict.
The financial costs
The increase in workplace conflict carries significant financial implications for organisations. According to a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), workplace conflicts cost UK employers an estimated £28.5 billion per year in absence, decreased productivity and legal fees. This substantial figure highlights the urgency for employers to address these issues proactively.
Mitigating workplace conflict
There are many ways that these costs and strained relationships can be avoided by following good HR practice, embedding a positive culture, and tackling potential issues early on. For example:
- promote and invest in diversity and inclusion training and awareness programmes for employees. Encourage open dialogue, empathy and respect for different perspectives.
- enhance communication skills, focusing on clarity and active listening. Encourage employees to express themselves effectively, model what is expected throughout the business, and provide employees with the tools they need to do this well.
- implement mental health programmes, support and resources to help employees manage stress and build resilience.
- promote work-life balance, by encouraging staff to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, even in a remote-working environment. This should include revisiting flexible working arrangements and being more open to trialling new working patterns.
- consider developing a conflict resolution training programme, to include mediation and negotiation training. Equip line managers with the skills to intervene early and effectively, or consider outsourcing to third party experts if a situation warrants this, before it becomes toxic or it affects a wider cohort.
- encourage regular one-to-one check-ins between employees and managers, to provide a platform for discussing concerns, clarifying expectations, and fostering a positive working relationship.
- create a comprehensive Conflict Resolution Policy to outline the steps to be taken when conflicts arise. Ensure employees are aware of the policy and know how to access support.
- use technology wisely. Organisations should of course continue to leverage technology for efficient communication, but you should encourage in-person meetings whenever sensitive topics need to be discussed (or video meetings if absolutely necessary). Ensure all employees are proficient in digital communication tools.
The increase in workplace conflict is a real and pressing issue for employers to address, with substantive financial implications for organisations to bear. However, by understanding the underlying causes, investing in training and support, and implementing proactive conflict resolution strategies, businesses can mitigate these issues effectively. A harmonious workplace not only reduces costs, but also fosters a more engaged and productive workforce, ultimately benefiting both employees and the organisation as a whole.