How to Handle Workplace Conflict


Jovita Ibie

Customer Experience Manager

It is not unusual for conflict in organizations when employees with different backgrounds and priorities work together. This may occur in various ways such as insults, bullying, disrespect, non-cooperation and anger. The causes of these conflicts can range from personality clashes and misunderstood communication to organizational mismanagement. The negative effects of workplace conflict can include work disruptions, decreased productivity, project failure, absenteeism, turnover,termination and emotional stress which can be both a cause and an effect of workplace conflict.

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Common Causes of Workplace Conflict

  • Personality differences
  • Inappropriate workplace behaviors
  • Unmet needs in the workplace
  • Noticeable inequities of resources
  • Unclear job descriptions
  • Unhealthy competitions
  • Workforce reduction
  • Mismanagement of organization
  • Poor communication
  • Misunderstood remarks
  • Differences over work methods or goals
  • Inequalities

It is important to create an atmosphere where employees communicate with respectful, inoffensive language; show tolerance and acceptance of differences among each other; and demonstrate respect for all individuals in the organization regardless of position, status or tenure.

An employer must ensure that mechanisms are out in place to resolve conflict at its early stages, in order for employees to see their employer as fair in their dealings with them and will likely be more satisfied with their jobs.

Unresolved issues of interpersonal tension and conflict can create emotional stress for employees, politicize the workplace and divert attention from the organization's mission. If employers do not act, conflicts will escalate into larger problems, discrimination and harassment complaints may increase which could damage the employer's reputation.

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Result of Unresolved Workplace Conflict

• Absenteeism

Unscheduled absences drive up employers' costs through benefits outlays, the use of replacement workers, higher stress levels among employees and a decrease in overall employee performance.

• Turnover

When employees mistrust management or perceive the organization as acting unfairly, turnover may increase. This can lead to recruiting and training expenses for new hires and the costs attributable to a slippage of performance until new employees become fully proficient in their jobs.

• Litigation

When a resolution of workplace conflict cannot be achieved, employees may seek outside legal help, which can cause an organization to mount a costly defense or agree to an expensive settlement. Lawsuits resolved in an employee's favor can result in significant financial penalties for the employer and can even produce criminal or civil sanctions.

Result of Unresolved Workplace Conflict

Although conflicts arise in every organization, the methods to handle them vary. The Manager and HR must build a strong foundation and culture that promotes a healthy relationship between managers and employees based on fairness, trust and mutual respect. The following ingredients could be used:

• Interactive communication

Communication that is clear and two-way can help build trust between employees and their managers.

• Trust

The absence of trust among employees and managers can compromise communication in either or both directions.

• Ethics

If employees do not perceive their manager as having good business ethics, they will indirectly question the manager's motives, which may cause stress and reduce performance.

• Fairness

All employees should be treated in a consistent manner under the same circumstances. Superior performance, however, should still be recognized and rewarded.

• Empathy

Managers need to be alert and sensitive to their employees' feelings, and showing empathy and awareness is central to establishing a trusting relationship with employees.

• Perception

Employees respond positively when they believe the organization's policies and practices are fair and its communication is truthful. Frequent, honest communication helps ensure that employees' beliefs and perceptions are consistent with reality in the workplace.

• Expectations

No one likes to be surprised with new or conflicting requirements, which can cause stress and distract employees from the job at hand. It is important for employees to know what to expect from their employer.

If an organization is large enough to support an employee relations position, this can send a positive message to the workforce about the value the employer places on maintaining positive employee relationships. HR professionals are often trained to handle workplace conflict and to resolve problems among employees or other dissatisfaction in the workplace and eliminate issues before they get out of proportion.

Employers must deal with issues head-on and resolve disputes fairly and quickly.

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