The last few months have been extremely challenging to both business and employees and consequently, a lot of change is taking place with restructuring and making redundancies. Research also suggests that half of employers still anticipate redundancies when furlough ends in October. The consequences of change such as this can lead to disgruntled employees, employees disagreeing with decisions made or feelings of unfair treatment in how they are being managed at this challenging time. Conflict in the workplace is an obstruction and so resolving disputes will be key to moving your business forward through change.
Conflict: what is it, what can cause it and what are the effects?
People see the world in different ways and employees bring different experiences and perspectives to the organisation, and so people will react differently to situations. Conflict is about a difference of opinion between people, but there can be constructive, positive conflict as well as negative conflict.
Conflict can be used positively such as where problem solving is required, or where a strategy needs defining and gathering people’s views are vital. Where conflict becomes negative is where disagreements between people holding opposing views and principals begin to have a detrimental impact. This can be either on the wider team, the business, or the individual themselves.
In a recent survey about managing conflict carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), it found that 26% of employees and 20% of Employers said that conflict at work is a common occurrence.
Some examples of what can cause conflict:
- One-off disagreement
- Personality Clash
- Ongoing difficult relationship
- Poor management
- Ambiguous job roles
- Poor communication
- Unfair Treatment.
In the same CIPD survey, when it analysed the triggers for conflict and found that 46% respondents attributed it to differences in personality or working styles. 36% related to individual competence or performance (i.e. performance management), 22% to the amount of level of support/resources and 20% relating to deliverables or the setting of targets.
The impact that conflict can have on an individual, the team, and wider workplace, includes under performance, productivity issues, informal/formal grievances, workplace stress and sickness absence. According to the CIPD research, it found that the biggest impact of conflict was stress (48%). Here are the other findings:
|Loss of self confidence||30%|
|A drop in productivity||19%|
|Source – CIPD Managing Conflict in the Workplace January 2020|
It is important to highlight that if the return to the workplace post lockdown is not managed carefully, there is potential for conflict. With Covid-19, organisations are having to make difficult decisions all the time and quickly adapt to the ever-changing situation. You may find conflict arising from:
- Having to make redundancies, and who is selected
- Who you keep on furlough and who you bring back
- Measures you put in place to make the workplace Covid-Secure
- Managing business needs alongside employees who may have challenging personal circumstances (caring responsibilities, childcare needs or who are shielding)
- How you manage pay when an employee returns from an overseas holiday and must quarantine.
There are all challenging aspects of managing people and if not managed effectively, or consistently can lead to unrest, and if not managed, have the potential for grievances, or even whistleblowing claims.
Very often dealing with negative conflict is reactionary to a situation, but it should be about creating a culture that prevents it. Of course, not all conflict can be prevented, but as Line Managers, having the skills and confidence to intervene early to address minor disagreements to prevent escalation or issues festering, the better the working environment will be to the individual, and therefore individual performance, the wider team and ultimately the business.
Here are some ways in which you can build a culture that aims to prevent conflict in the workplace:
- Understanding your employees as people and as individuals by knowing their own working style as well as what may be happening outside of work
- Identify where there may be tensions in the team and be proactive to drive positive relationships encouraging collaboration
- Set clear goals and objectives and realistic timescales for individuals and the team
- Set out clearly your expectations in terms of how people treat each other, their general conduct, and standards of work
- Manage behaviour in your teams and be prepared to act under the organisation’s policies and procedures, such as Performance Management Policy or Disciplinary Policy or Absence Management.
- Remain objective and act consistently in the decisions you take
- Encourage team working and welcome everybody’s contribution
- Maintain privacy and confidentiality of your team members personal matters
- Explore workplace issues early and thoroughly.
There are several ways to resolve conflict; informally or formally. It is hoped that in most cases, an informal approach can be adopted to resolve the matter. Such as in the case of minor disagreements, poor attendance, or personality clashes, talking over people or just differences in work style.
Employers should make every effort to resolve the conflict informally. However, there are occasions that it is appropriate to go straight to the formal process, i.e. either the conflict is extremely serious, such as allegations of discrimination or allegations of bullying or harassment or the employee has requested the matter be formally investigated. We will cover grievances specifically further on in this article.
The key to resolving conflict is effective communication. Being able to effectively communicate can resolve misunderstandings, ensure people feel as though they have been listened to, and that they have been treated seriously and fairly. It can also help you to get to the root cause of an issue and take necessary steps to stop the matter from escalating.
Taking action to resolve conflict is a fundamental part of the Line Manager’s role. Being aware of what is going on within your team is crucial not just for effective performance but employee engagement. If you believe there is a problem in the team, then being proactive by initiating informal discussions between relevant parties will be key. Letting matters fester and escalate will only lead to feelings of resentment, stress, sickness absence or even formal grievances.
Mediation is a process that aims to find a solution to a dispute that is acceptable to all parties. It is usual for a third party to manage the process of mediation by helping parties to explore and understand their differences with the aim of finding a mutually acceptable workable solution. For some organisations, mediation is written into formal discipline and grievance procedures as an optional stage.
The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures makes clear that both Employers and Employees should always seek to resolve either disciplinary or grievance issues, but where this is not possible should give consideration to using an independent third party to help resolve the problem.
Mediation works well when:
- The parties in dispute need to have regular, ongoing, professional interaction
- One party feels uncomfortable confronting the other without a third-party present
- The ability for the parties to resolve the issue themselves is questionable
- Other people or work processes are affected
- Parties want to avoid formal procedures and are willing participants.
The following are suitable issues for mediation:
- Relationship breakdowns
- Allegations of bullying or harassment
- Terms and conditions of employment
- Trade union disputes.
Every organisation must have a Grievance Policy and under the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance, it recommends that Employees should settle most grievances informally with their line manager first. Doing so, allows the problems to be listened to and settled quickly. It is recommended that both an informal and formal process is written into a company’s Grievance Policy.
For some extremely serious grievances though, it is not appropriate to use an informal process and instead, should escalate straight to a formal process. Examples of this include allegations of discrimination or allegations of bullying and harassment. In these situations, failure to address the matters formally could be perceived by the employee that the organisation is not taking their concerns seriously.
There may also be a need to raise a formal grievance when attempts to address the concerns informally have not worked satisfactorily to the individual. Employees have the right to have their complaints formally investigated and to pursue a formal grievance.
Think carefully about how to handle a grievance which is raised during a disciplinary hearing or in a resignation letter. In a disciplinary hearing, it may be that the disciplinary process is suspended to address the grievance before the disciplinary hearing. If a resignation letter raises issues at work, then it may be that the employee should be asked to reconsider their resignation and a grievance process should be instigated with a view a to maintain their employment.
Both theses situations if not handled correctly could lead to a constructive dismissal claim. Failure to follow the ACAS Code of Practice when dealing with grievances will be taking into consideration by an Employment Tribunal and they can adjust the award made to an employee by up to 25%.
Further HR Support
HR Solutions recently presented a webinar on Conflict Resolution, which was recorded, and will soon be made available for you to watch on demand; please check our webinar library again shortly.
For further advice and support on any employment-related issues call us on 0844 324 5840 or contact us online.