3 Reasons You Need to Train Managers to Resolve Conflict in the Workplace

resolve conflict

This post was originally published in the Newsletter for CIPD Management Toolclicks.  You can read the original article here.

Conflict in the workplace is a management issue and every manager need to be able to resolve conflict in a healthy, productive fashion.  Workplaces employ people and, as soon as you have people working together, you have potential for conflict.  It’s unavoidable.  Managers need the ability to recognise conflict and to be able resolve it swiftly and productively.

Reasons to Resolve Conflict

Here are three key reasons:

1.  Conflict costs money!

Being in conflict is no fun.  It’s stressful, unpleasant, distracting, intrusive and annoying.  But that’s not all.  Conflict costs money!  And you can calculate those costs, in wasted time, bad decisions, lost employees, lowered job motivation, health costs and legal expenses.

The employee survey, Fight, Flight or Face it?, found that 85% of workers have had to deal with conflict at work and spend on average two hours per week involved in sorting out disputes.  For the UK alone, that translates to 370 million working days – or more than £24 billion – lost every year because of conflict in the workplace.  Two-thirds of respondents report that conflict at work has resulted in the absence from work of one or more of the parties involved.  Often employees will simply vote with their feet and leave if organisations don’t resolve conflict effectively.  Half of respondents in the CIPD report say that conflict has resulted in people leaving the organisation and a similar proportion report that disputes that intensified resulted in bullying or harassment.

There is personal cost to individuals under stress.  But there is also cost to the organisation in employee absence, dysfunctional teams and damage to morale and productivity.  And employers need to consider the management time wasted and significant costs that organisations face if disputes heighten to the point where the formal disciplinary or grievance process has to be used.  The CIPD’s 2007 Managing Conflict at Work survey report found that on average organisations devote more than 12 days in HR and management time a year in managing disciplinary and grievance cases for every 100 employees.  The survey also found that employers face average annual costs associated with employment tribunal claims and hearings of £20,000.

2.  Resolving conflict is an increasing challenge for organisations

Resolving conflict in the workplace is a continuing challenge for employers.  In 2011-2012 the number of individual employment disputes that resulted in employment tribunal applications was 186,300, a significant drop compared with 218,000 claims for 2010-2011.

The Government are determined to reduce the number of Employment Tribunal claims and they have taken several steps to create a further drop in the number of claims going to the Tribunal over the coming years.  Those steps include increasing the qualifying period for raising a Tribunal claim from 1 to 2 years; introducing tribunal fees for Claimants, early ACAS conciliation and simplified settlement discussions/agreements.  However, the threat of a tribunal remains real and organisations can’t afford to relax.

3.  Relying on disciplinary and grievance procedures is counter-productive

Inevitably, organisations are increasingly relying on their HR departments to manage conflict as managers shy away from tackling disputes in case they do or say something that an employee might hold against them during any formal proceedings.  This approach is counterproductive.  When a dispute has developed to the point where the disciplinary procedure has been triggered or a formal grievance lodged, opinions are often hardened and confrontational stances on both sides have developed that are hard to change.  In other words, organisations are spending many thousands of pounds to deliver results that are not consistent with individuals staying in their jobs and working collaboratively and effectively with their colleagues.

Surprisingly, a less common approach is to train managers and employees to resolve conflict on a less formal basis.  And yet it is a much more effective approach.  The OPP research shows that where training does exist, it clearly adds value.  Of those employees receiving training, a quarter (27%) say it made them more comfortable and confident in managing disputes and over half (58%) say they now look for win-win outcomes from conflict.  Line managers and HR need to have the skills to recognise conflicts and have the confidence to deal with them at an early stage.  They need to have those difficult conversations and to help resolve the situation.

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