Managing Conflict in the Workplace

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Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. Generally, it is in a person’s nature to avoid uncomfortable situations in the workplace. By the time Senior Management or HR personnel become aware of conflict within a team or between parties in the workplace, the matter has usually escalated to become a much more serious claim or incident.

Queensland Government Research shows that conflict in the workplace can be a major source contributing to staff turnover, with over 65% of employee performance problems a result of strained relationships. Conflict in the workplace can be caused by a clash of personality styles, different interests or values, skill deficits or a lack of information and understanding.

Healthy vs Unhealthy Conflict

However, Managers must understand that not all conflict is detrimental to their organisation. In effective teams, conflict can be normal and healthy. Environments, where employees feel safe and comfortable to disagree with one another in a constructive way, can lead to more innovative ideas, higher productivity and better decision making. However, unhealthy conflict can quickly become personal, emotional and often result in irreparable damage to workplace relationships. Unhealthy conflict can also escalate to bullying, harassment and/or discrimination claims. Employers have a duty under the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers at the workplace. Therefore, organisations and Managers must take steps to reduce and deal with conflict in the workplace.

Dispute Resolution Policy

One way to manage unhealthy conflict in the workplace is to have a dispute resolution policy. The aim of this policy is to help employees and supervisors identify, address and resolve problems early and prevent unavoidable conflict from escalating. The policy should be simple, fair and transparent. The process for dealing with unhealthy workplace conflict should be:

  • Timely: Conflict can escalate quickly, with small disagreements becoming major disputes. Therefore, Management should intervene early
  • Fair: Managers dealing with conflict should remain impartial and ensure that they gather and consider all sides of the story
  • Sensitive: handling and resolving the conflict in a confidential manner will minimise the impact on employees
  • Transparent: the policy or procedure on how conflict will be addressed should be known and easily accessible to all employees.

Organisations should also consider providing training opportunities to Supervisors to support them in dealing with conflict and difficult situations in the workplace.

If you require any assistance in implementing a dispute resolution policy in your workplace, please contact our experienced HR Consultants at Preston HR.