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How can HR avoid an Oscars-style bust-up in the workplace?

By April 19, 2022Employment

How can HR avoid an Oscars-style bust-up in the workplace?

Most people will now have seen the infamous moment that Will Smith slapped the Oscars’ presenter Chris Rock after he made a remark about his wife’s appearance. Whilst the images and videos that have been circulated are shocking, workplace conflict is surprisingly common. This article considers what steps an employer might take to address workplace conflict and hopefully avoid matters escalating to the level seen at the Oscars.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, workplace conflict was suppressed however as we return to the office and normality, it is likely that insecurity, rapid change, a difference of opinions, and economic pressures will result in employee conflict resurfacing.

In May 2021, ACAS produced a report which focused on the economic consequences of workplace conflict. Some examples include sickness absence due to consequential stress, anxiety and depression, dealing with grievances, disciplinary procedures, and dismissals, as well as the possibility of legal proceedings. In addition to this, workplace conflict can result in low staff morale and a reduction in productivity.

Whilst of course it isn’t possible to completely eradicate workplace conflict, as there are always going to be people who simply clash, there are ways in which an employer can manage workplace conflict to try to reduce the negative impacts on its business and workforce. We have set out some suggestions below:

1. Try to resolve conflict early on. The ACAS report comments that when disputes are resolved informally, they are much less costly than invoking formal policies, individuals taking time off work sick, and replacing staff if they are dismissed or resign.

2. Have clear grievance and disciplinary policies which set out how matters will progress and the right to appeal.

3. Think outside the box. Consider practical solutions to the issues as well as traditional solutions such as disciplinary / grievance outcomes.

4. Mediation often assists employees to make their thoughts and feelings known in a safe environment, and encourages employees to resolve issues themselves.

5. Internal HR practices and policies to reduce the likelihood of conflict occurring, with training provided to managers to assist them in dealing with workplace conflict before it progresses.

6. Ensure support is provided to any employees going through workplace disputes.

Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with workplace conflict. It is often the case that different situations and different personalities will call for different approaches.

As set out above, employers need to tread carefully when dealing with workplace conflict as it can very quickly result in issues such as long-term sickness absence and claims. This, in turn, can be very costly and distract from dealing with other issues within the workplace.

If you need assistance with dealing with workplace conflict, please do not hesitate to contact the employment team at Glaisyers ETL on 0161 833 5689 /


Gemma Wilson

Author Gemma Wilson

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