The cost of conflict and how to combat it

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There is nothing like a global pandemic to create conflict in a workplace, views on the virus itself, vaccinations and returning to the workplace has created polar opposite views amongst employees and employers are having to do all they can to balance these views and keep things ticking over.

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Recent research has concluded that conflict in the workplace costs UK businesses nearly £30 billion per year, an average of around £1000 per employee. Something we can probably all agree on is that this is an unnecessary cost in a business, but how do you combat the issue?

Conflict will arise for many different reasons, views on a global pandemic is one, but more common reasons include poor communication, unfair treatment and bullying and harassment.

The costs detailed in the recent ACAS research are linked to time spent following processes to deal with conflict, absences and presenteeism and resignations. All of these have a detrimental impact on productivity and at a time when output is key, it is important to deal with conflict as soon as it occurs.

Dealing with conflict may mean needing to have awkward conversations and take necessary action but more often than not, early intervention will make any process smoother and easier to deal with.

Key things to do when dealing with conflict include:

Investigate – speak to each employee individually and be prepared to investigate further if needed such as speaking to other team members as witnesses. If the investigation could result in disciplinary action, then it needs to be a comprehensive investigation with no corners being cut. If the investigation is taking place due to one party raising a grievance, make sure you follow your grievance procedure in the process.

Stay impartial – don’t let assumptions cloud your judgement, look at the facts and base any decisions on those facts.

Take appropriate, justified action – it may be that informal mediation may be appropriate to resolve the conflict, particularly where it could be due to a clash of personalities. Encourage both parties to speak openly and honestly so they can resolve their issues. If the conflict is of a more serious nature, then it may be that disciplinary action is required and therefore a fair disciplinary process must be followed.

Provide training – if the conflict has arisen due to poor communication or poor line management then it may be that training needs to be organised for certain individuals. Make sure the training is effective and not just a tick box exercise, effective training will address the issue and prevent it occurring again in the future. Prevention is always better than cure so review your training processes and see if there is any further training you could provide to prevent any other conflict in the future.

The worst thing that can be done when conflict arises is nothing, leaving the conflict to continue will cause an array of issues including staff absences, reduced productivity and in the worst cases, formal grievances or resignations. All of these create considerable costs to your businesses which can be avoided for the sake of a little time spent dealing with the issues. It can be hard in small organisations when you have close working relationships and, in these situations, there is no problem in seeking external support to help ensure conflict is dealt with effectively and fairly.

For further HR advice or assistance on dealing with conflict in your business

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