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Counting the cost of conflict

24 November 2011

Counting the cost of conflict

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We’re officially into ‘conflict season’ - with more employees raising formal complaints against their employer than at any other time of the year.

The good news is the according to the official statistics the total number of tribunal cases brought over the last 12 months is down eight per cent. The bad news is this is still a 44 per cent increase on the year before that.

In summary, whereas a little summer holiday reflection might have once led someone to leave the organisation in search of more enjoyable employment elsewhere, the worst unemployment figures for nearly two decades means the majority of employees are now more determined than ever to stay and keep their job, even if that means having to fight their corner.

The real cost

The good news is the majority of employees don’t wake up and say: “I’m going to disagree with and fall out terribly with so and so today.” Instead, conflict is typically an unwanted outcome by everyone concerned and normally the unfortunate result of bad behaviour being allowed to go on unchecked or the organisation failing to address one of the following conflict hotspots.

Conflict hot spots:

Silo mentalities – asides from limiting the ability of individuals to share information and knowledge with other parts of the business, ‘them and us’ cultures are a breeding ground for conflict, which can start innocently enough but quickly escalate into outright conflict.

Personality clash – it is human nature not to like every person we meet and to positively dislike approximately one in every fourteen people. Ask yourself do badly clashing personalities really need to work together? If so get some clear guidelines in place!

Remote conflict – let’s face it, we’ve all written something over email in haste that we wouldn’t dream of saying to someone’s face. Make sure seemingly minor conflicts aren’t allowed to escalate into nasty personalised conflicts over email with clear guidelines for dignity at work.

Management incapability – the vast majority of managers are put in charge of managing others due to their technical rather than their people skills. A corresponding lack of management training means people often feel like they’re being picked on resulting in conflict.Performance management – According to research by the CIPD 74 per cent of people are likely to raise a grievance if put on performance management. If you brand someone as failing it’s likely to get their back up! Far better to inspire them to want to do things differently.

What’s the solution?

So long as humans are involved, some form of conflict is always going to be inevitable. The real challenge is to create ways of enabling employees to quickly resolve this conflict. Measures that can help include setting clear policies and training managers to deal with conflict from the outset, providing employees with access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) so that they can get the emotional support they need to properly address any inappropriate behaviour directed towards them, and introducing mediation at an early stage so that both parties can work out an agreement as to how they can work together going forward.

However costly and time consuming these measures seem, the reality is that once a formal complaint has been made in keeping with the company’s guidelines it has to be investigated, the cost of which can run into thousands of pounds and tens of thousands of pounds if the report isn’t complied properly and the case taken to tribunal.

Mediation services in particular can eliminate conflict by giving individuals a better understanding of each other’s difference. For example, helping someone whose natural reaction to conflict is to retreat away to understand why someone else whose natural response is to get everything off their chest and talk it through isn’t as aggressive or overbearing as it might seen.