The CIPD’s latest research on how to deal with conflict at work found that just over a third (35 per cent) of employees experienced some form of conflict over the past year, whether that was an isolated incident or an ongoing difficult relationship.
Some examples of unpleasant daily work situations experienced by UK employees every year are:
- A colleague is excluded from work conversations and not invited to a meeting when a new project is introduced.
- Another is cut off in the middle of answering a question
- Or pulled up for an easily remedied mistake
- The boss who overrides reasonable decisions or embarrasses someone in front of their workmates
- An employee is ‘encouraged’ to take on more work with the ‘incentive’ of holding on to their contract.
The report also found 15 per cent of employees have claimed to have suffered bullying at work over the past three years, with 8 per cent experiencing harassment of a non-sexual nature and 4 per cent sexual harassment.
However, much more widespread are instances of lower-level conflict that can create the building blocks for the more serious incidents or bullying.
Other causes for conflict maybe management who say one thing, yet do another. For example, a Company may ‘support wellbeing’ but then expect teams to work long hours. Or expect people to work as a team but set them individual objectives so people can’t integrate.
Pressure on wages, teams feeling like they have to achieve more with less, not to mention political instability and differences of opinion among colleagues on Brexit. These are all instances of accumulating conflict that may not end up in a formal grievance or mediation, but chip away at an organisation’s culture.
The CIPD’s research shows that fewer than half (44 per cent) of those who had experienced conflict felt the situation had been satisfactorily resolved, and almost a third (31 per cent) said the person they reported it to did not take it seriously. A quarter of employees felt challenging issues like bullying and harassment were often swept under the carpet.
Therefore, to understand more about how conflict can present itself in the workplace, here are some types of conflict in the workplace that you may recognise and how to deal with conflict at work.
The One That Simmers Under The Surface
This type of conflict starts off small, often without managers registering it is even there. Perhaps someone gets a promotion and someone else doesn’t. That person starts rallying for support because they feel wronged. It all happens under the surface, but all the manager sees is hacked off employees. This is one of the hardest types of conflict to get in the middle of, and unless you have a culture where these sorts of issues can be raised, it will impact on performance.
The One That’s Left To Fester
This is a recipe for conflict going on longer than it should rather than being nipped in the bud. And if something that could have been solved with an open conversation escalates and becomes more formal, introducing mediators or holding a resolution meeting may be too late. Factions have been drawn already, and the rot may have already set in.
Managers may require coaching in listening skills and resilience to have those difficult conversations with confidence.
If an employee feels they’re not being heard, this can be a breeding ground for conflict. It can be worse for people with high demands on them, yet with low levels of control and little autonomy. Although managers need to be mindful of how employees feel about their role and whether they have a voice, sometimes management instructions have not been communicated properly, or the employee has taken an instruction in the wrong context. This is sometimes where misunderstandings develop.
Whatever the reason for a misunderstanding, the conflict often masquerades as one thing when its root is something else entirely. The conflict may be expressed as a performance issue, but there could be other tensions underneath such as a relationship breakdown or resentment over not being promoted.
Mediation involves an independent third party considering an employment problem and working with those concerned to try and seek an amicable resolution for everyone The Mediator’s role is to try and extrapolate any underlying issues that may have been distorted by unacceptable behaviour and complaining.
The Good Intentions Make Matters Worse
In the recent CIPD conflict survey, employee respondents said that, when they reported an incident to a superior, their manager actually ended up making things worse. There’s a consensus that employers and managers may need more skills in dealing with difficult conversations. We see this at Metis HR quite frequently. An employer has put up with a situation for some time, suddenly something happens, and they can’t stand the situation any longer. It has got so bad something has to be done about it.
In cultures where conflict is dealt with before things boil over, there is regular dialogue between managers and HR, so managers feel they can have a 10-minute pep talk with an HR professional before dealing with an awkward situation, rather than saying the wrong thing or avoiding the issue altogether. At Metis HR, we coach managers and give them the knowledge and confidence to deal with difficult situations.
The Company Culture Is The Problem
The CIPD’s research revealed that one in five employees felt ‘people in their team sometimes reject each other for being different’. Attitudes and behaviours don’t have to come in the form of overt prejudice for someone to feel excluded. Employers need to be aware of any hint of a culture that doesn’t embrace difference, diversity and acceptance.
You need to promote a culture that is transparent, healthy and open, but where the slightest sign of inappropriate behaviour is challenged. This means taking complaints seriously and encouraging individuals to call out bad behaviour when they see it. Policies that deal with harassment or speaking up should be visible and brought to life, with senior leaders taking the lead.
The Conflict Comes From the Top
Leaders have a huge influence on how conflict is managed within an organisation. Under pressure to deliver on ever-more ambitious targets, employers can sometimes focus on the technical aspects of performance rather than on what motivates their employees. Left unchecked, this can filter throughout the business and create an environment of stress and disengagement.
Metis HR offer Coaching for Managers and Senior Decision Makers, Mediation for when conflicts have reached breaking point and Grievance and Disciplinary help when all other routes have been exhausted.
If you would like to know more on how to deal with conflict at work please contact us on 01706 565332 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses. Call us now on 01706 565332 to discuss how we may help you.