Workplace conflict can affect business profitability from work disruptions, project failure, high turnover, and decreased productivity. For instance, a recent report showed that conflict costs business owners about $2 billion annually in Canada. Another 2021 report by Acas depicted that conflict in the UK costs about $28.5 billion annually, while another study showed conflict costs the USA about $359 billion in paid hours. 

Notably, it’s estimated that 85% of employees experience some conflict. Thus, it indicates that employee conflict resolution is an issue that business leaders, HR managers, conflict managers, team leaders, or supervisors should not neglect. Those responsible for conflict resolution in organizations find it to be a complex and time-consuming task. However, it doesn’t have to be when there are the right skills, knowledge, and tools to handle conflict.

This article explores various effective ways different persons can resolve employee conflicts in the workplace. It also briefly outlines the causes of employee conflicts and how to identify conflict in the workplace.

What is Conflict in the Workplace?

Conflict in the workplace is when there is a disagreement(s) between/among employees or colleagues. Employee conflict in the workplace is often caused by opposing interests, ideas, expectations, personalities, or beliefs. Additionally, workplace employee conflict is attributed to poor communication, weak management styles, unfair treatment, and overwhelming workloads. 

Conflict is a normal part of human interaction, including in their workplaces. However, if the disagreements among employees become hostile, unpleasant, or go too far, there is a need for conflict resolution by respective leaders. 

How do you Identify Employee Conflict in the workplace? 

As a leader in your organization’s upper management, it might be hard to recognize some conflicts in the workplace, especially when employees fear job reprisals. Conflicting parties may shy away from speaking out. Therefore, leaders must understand how to identify employees’ conflicts in the workplace environment. Conflict manifest in various ways, and here is how they can recognize it:

  • Different objectives among team members 

When team members don’t have a defined objective, everyone moves in a different direction; thus, communication breaks down, and disagreements quickly arise. 

  • Decreased productivity 

If employees conflict, tasks won’t be appropriately executed; thus, deadlines are not met, projects stall, quality issues arise, and increased anxiety and stress among employees. 

  • Unhealthy competition 

While competition among employees and their respective departments or team is crucial, unhealthy competition is a sign of conflict. Unhealthy competition means employees may jeopardize teamwork, collaboration or cooperation, etc. 

  • Inappropriate communication among employees 

Communication is vital in the workplace. However, when leaders note inappropriate actions such as impolite emails, use of coarse language, and lack of tolerance among employees, it’s a sign of workplace conflict. 

  • Tension in the meetings 

Leaders who notice patterns of lack of dialogue, no clear plan, or discomfort among employees should find out why. It may be a result of a lack of morale or a conflict in the workplace. 

  • Disrupted workflow 

When there is a conflict among employees, the workflow is likely to be affected most. Why? There is minimal collaboration, communication, and unproductiveness in the workplace.

What are the Best Ways to Solve, Manage, Handle or Deal with Conflicts in the Workplace? 

Below are five ways/tips an HR manager or leader should embrace to manage and solve various forms of employee conflicts in the workplace. 

1. Identify the root cause of conflict

The first step a manager, leader, or business owner should take in resolving an employee conflict in the workplace is identifying and clarifying the root cause of a conflict. During this phase, they should obtain as much information as possible from both parties. More importantly, they should avoid any form of biasness in the questioning. 

Why is this important anyway? Managers get to know and gain clarity on what mainly caused the conflict. Knowing the cause of conflict will help in addressing it. 

2. Take action when necessary

Some employee conflicts require action depending on the severity or effects it poses to the other party, employees, or the entire business/organization. For instance, situations that involve bullying, harassment, physical harm, threatening, explicit language, or disrupting team productivity require necessary action. 

Depending on the situation and risk of harm to individuals and property, managers may need to involve the HR and law enforcement personnel. 

3. Schedule time to discuss the conflict in a neutral place 

The next step to solving employee conflict entails discussing the conflict among both parties and a mediator. Therefore, as the mediator, schedule a meeting with both parties conveniently at a neutral location to have a constructive conversation. 

It’s good that managers avoid choosing an office of either party. More importantly, the time allocated should allow the parties to have enough time to talk out their thoughts. 

Once the managers have listened carefully and actively to both parties, it’s time to discuss the conflicting perspectives calmly with both parties. At this point, prioritizing areas of conflict for both parties is quite essential. 

4. Cooperate with both parties to get a possible solution

After all the parties have articulated their issues and the mediator has already deduced the facts from their conversation, they should find common ground. All parties must avoid blaming each other. 

As a mediator, managers should also encourage conflicting employees in the workplace to compromise some of their demands to accommodate each other slightly. 

5. Let both sides agree on a solution

Parties should come and agree to a solution based on the facts. Above all, the solution should address their demands. 

A leader or mediator may devise solutions addressing both parties’ concerns by choosing what suits them. Consequently, they should also agree on a plan of action: let parties agree on the best way possible. 

3. Document the incident 

Keeping track of the process of resolving conflict in the workplace is essential. Therefore, document the cause of the conflict, conversations/meetings held, facts from both parties, and a resolution agreed upon by both parties. 

Why is documenting important? It helps in decision-making and ensures a record of the reason for the particular disciplinary action (if any) taken. More importantly, it allows employers or organizations to be more consistent in their decision-making if similar situations arise. Lastly, documenting is vital if one of the parties decides to seek legal help against the mediator from a court.

4. Monitor and evaluate 

Managers should follow up with both parties to monitor their progress as a facilitator in resolving employee conflict in the workplace. They also must evaluate whether both parties are conducting themselves according to the agreed-upon plan. 

The manager should identify other possible solutions if the solution isn’t practical or has created more conflict. 

Strategies for Leaders and HR Professionals to Prevent and Manage Future Employee Conflict in the Workplace 

1. Get additional training 

Conflict resolution is skill HR professionals and leaders of organizations need. Therefore, if the skills are not very good, employers may consider getting additional professional training in conflict resolution. 

Employers might also consider training their employees on the fundamentals of conflict resolution. As a result, they can easily manage and solve some conflicts among themselves. 

2. Build a set of team principles 

Team leaders must collaborate with their teams to define and set acceptable principles by which they live. Consider principles based on mutual respect, promote open communication, and enhance empathy. 

3. Clearly define roles and responsibilities

One major cause of employee conflict is unclear communication. Therefore, defining who does what can prevent and minimize employee conflict in the workplace. 

4. Resolve conflicts early 

Leaders should not allow conflicts to worsen while they have a chance to step in and address them. Therefore, if the conflicting parties cannot work out their issues themselves, the managers should get involved and work with the parties to find a possible solution as early as possible. They should not let the situation get out of control. 

5. Make conflict resolution part of the employee’s handbook

An employee handbook is an essential tool when dealing with employee conflicts. It acts as one of the points of reference when such conflicts arise. It’s a guide on how to solve disputes and what disciplinary actions to be taken. 

More importantly, employers should let the handbook outline what behaviour is expected from the employees, who they talk to when dealing with conflict and possible methods of dealing with disputes in the workplace. 

Final Thought 

Conflict is inevitable in our personal and work lives. Leaders or managers must understand that they are dealing with people with different perspectives and ideas among themselves. Therefore, mastering the skill of conflict resolution is vital. Additionally, being proactive helps in preventing employee conflicts. 

One way to be an effective leader is to solve employee conflicts. 

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