The Benefit of Workplace Conflict

With the holidays behind us, and economic troubles looming, employee morale is running low and managers are having to deal with a vast array of HR issues many of which surface in the form of conflict in the workplace. Disagreements that disrupt the flow of work are, of course, inevitable - and costly. The time spent managing the conflict adds up, and distracted employees inevitably produce work of comparatively lower quality.

According to the July 2008 report ‘Fight, flight or face it’, published by OPP in association with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, “poorly managed conflicts in the workplace are crippling British business. The average UK employee spends over two hours a week dealing with conflict, which means in total more than 370 million working days were lost last year at a cost to British employers of more than £24 billion”.

CEDR’s own research has shown that a single dispute with a management level employee resulting in tribunal proceedings can take as much as 49 days of senior management time – time not spent managing the business.

There is, however, an opportunity to reduce the time and effort spent dealing with conflict by encouraging employees and managers to deal with it effectively. The proactive engagement with conflict, although initially seen as a less favourable option (facing up to a conflict situation rather than ignoring it), will often produce positive results. Through engaging in difficult conversations and dealing with conflict situations, employees are likely to be more satisfied, reducing the stress and dissention in the workplace; and thus increasing job satisfaction and improving productivity.

So we encourage managers to look at conflict from a different perspective – an opportunity for a collaboration of ideas rather than a clash or disruption. Think of conflict as being potentially constructive, even beneficial to your company or organisation, if managed effectively.

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The Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) is an independent, non-profit organisation with a mission to cut the cost of conflict and create choice and capability in dispute prevention and resolution.