We spend a lot of time in the office. In fact, on average we spend over 90,000 hours (or 3,515 days) at work in a lifetime. That is a significant amount of time to spend in the workplace, so any conflicts or disputes can make this time seem even more unbearable. Diversity in backgrounds, experiences and perspectives, as well as differences in working styles and personalities, can benefit the workplace. By creating a rich working environment full of creative thinking and problem solving, healthy challenge and debate, and experience versus education, companies can thrive.
However, where personalities clash or tasks are poorly delegated, conflict in the workplace can arise. At Virtual Cabinet, we are all about helping businesses work and communicate more effectively by improving overall collaboration and working relations. That’s why we’ve created this guide to how to manage conflict at work.
What Causes Conflict at Work?
So, what causes conflict at work? There are various reasons why conflict in the workplace can arise. The most common reasons why colleagues butt heads are due to personality clashes, misunderstood communication, and organisational mismanagement. However, there can be more serious causes of disputes, such as bullying and harassment. These have more severe implications and can detrimentally affect someone’s life.
Sources of conflict at work include:
- Perceived inequalities of resources, or lack of equal opportunities.
- Poor performance, attendance, and timekeeping.
- Differences in personality style or ways of working.
- Not valuing other people’s views, backgrounds or experiences.
- Poor communication, such as excluding people, ignoring them, being discourteous, or talking over or interrupting people in meetings.
- Unmet needs in the workplace.
- Poor management or micromanaging – in relation to people and workflow.
- Unfair treatment, inadequate training and increases in workload.
The CIPD have reported that as many as four in 10 employees in the UK have reported experiencing some form of conflict at work – most of those disputes occur between an employee and their line manager, or a staff member who is more senior to them.
The Cost of Conflict in the Workplace
Resolving conflict at work must be a priority for all managers and business leaders, as not dealing with conflict at work can have negative effects on the company. With nearly 10 million people in the UK experiencing workplace disputes each year, this is costing businesses nearly £28.5 billion to put right.
When people experience conflict at work, it can affect their mental health, and 56% of workers in the UK have reported to have stress, anxiety or depression as a result of their disputes. It is also estimated that just under 900,000 employees took time off work, over 300,000 employees were dismissed and nearly half a million resigned because of it. For businesses, it can cost up to £30k per employee who is dealing with conflict at work, due to a decrease in work output, resourcing and additional training.
When companies do not resolve conflict at work, then productivity, communication, collaboration and teamwork will be severely affected. Not only is this bad for business, but it is also terrible for employee wellbeing and longevity in the company. Businesses need to promote healthy competition and positive relationships for their employees to encourage company growth and drive.
Tips on Dealing with Conflict at Work
Now that we’ve established the damage conflict in the workplace has, we’ve put together our favourite tips for resolving conflict at work. At Virtual Cabinet, our quest is to make people more productive and happy. That’s why we believe these tips are valuable in learning how to deal with conflict at work.
1. Clarify the source of conflict and investigate thoroughly
Communication is the key to managing conflict at work, no matter the size or severity of the issue. Without talking about the problem, then the dispute will be left to grow and fester, and the damage may be irreversible. Managers should speak to individuals alone and in a safe, neutral space away from the office to discuss the issue. If the issue is with a manager, then the individual should speak to a member of HR or a trusted, senior colleague. Anyone who is leading conversations should do so in a sensitive and constructive manner, while remaining objective and listening closely to what the individual is identifying as the root of the problem. Once the manager has listened to all affected parties, then they should come up with an action plan for all individuals involved.
With the move to home and remote working, sometimes face-to-face conversations can be difficult to schedule in, especially when everyone is based all over the country. So excellent communication software is vital to have these sensitive conversations when resolving conflict at work. Accessible communication should be available to every employee throughout the company so that whenever an issue arises, they know they have someone to speak to, whether they’re in the office, at home or working elsewhere. At Virtual Cabinet, we believe communication should be easy, secure and in real time. That’s why we’ve developed our work management software that allows businesses to easily communicate, collaborate and create with employees and external clients.
2. Praise, training and positive employee relations
When managing conflict at work, it can sometimes be difficult to establish who is at fault, especially if the dispute has continued over a prolonged period of time. A manager, or senior employee, should never blame an individual or point fingers when resolving conflict at work. Their role is not to criticise or condemn; however, they should be confident enough to have difficult conversations with all parties involved to correct behaviour and assign responsibilities moving forward. The manager should be constructive and positive about resolving the issue and ask for the individuals’ commitment to change during the meeting.
In cases where conflict at work has arisen because of issues with an individual’s performance or ways of working, then the manager needs to work with the individual to come up with an action plan that helps them progress. SMART targets are particularly valuable in dealing with conflict at work, as they allocate the individual responsibilities and goals to work towards, which can then be praised, boosting their wellbeing and morale.
When conflict in the workplace arises due to an individual’s views that are causing harm or distress to another employee, then the manager may need to educate them on what is appropriate in the workplace. If personal beliefs are becoming a problem, then individuals could be moved to different desks or areas of the office.
4. Set clear expectations and lead by example
Dealing with conflict at work can be difficult when remote working. All employees should lead by example and raise any issues with their managers. In turn, those in senior positions should set clear expectations for their employees. However, this can be difficult when the majority of work occurs over video calls and shared systems.
We recommend a work management system that allows for shared tasks where work can be clearly allocated to individuals. This should be visible so the issue of overworking or individuals sneakily taking credit for someone else’s work are eradicated. It also eradicates the issue of confusion as everyone can see what they’ve been assigned and who is completing certain tasks. Once a task has been allocated, a work management system will also allow you to manage these tasks and chase them if they’re not completed on time. With specific allocation and improved communication, we hope that a work management system will eradicate conflict at work.
We hope that our guide to how to manage conflict at work has been helpful. If you think that a work management system will help your business resolve conflict at work, then book a free demo today.