Managing workplace conflict – Key issues to consider as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic

Earlier this month ACAS published a new report, “Estimating the Costs of Workplace Conflict”, which estimates that workplace conflicts cost UK employers £28.5 billion a year. That works out at an average cost of £1,000 per employee.

Where do these figures come from?

ACAS looked at the total cost to organisations of dealing with disputes which included the cost of informal and formal resolution, legal proceedings, staff sickness absences and resignations. Whilst the research was conducted before the Covid-19 pandemic, as lots of businesses start to gear up for a return to the workplace we are likely to see an increase in workplace issues as individuals and organisations alike adjust to the new “normal”.

What steps can employers take to manage workplace conflict?

The ACAS report highlights the impact poor conflict management can have on employees including staff stress, anxiety and depression which can in turn impact on productivity. Left unresolved this can lead to resignations and potentially litigation. So what can employers do to help them manage conflict effectively?

  1. Create multiple channels through which individuals can seek help. That could be through the organisation’s HR department, employee representatives, Line Managers or even external sources of support such as employee assistance programmes. 
  2. Ensure managers are competent to deal with conflict. It is vital that the people who are responsible for dealing with workplace conflict have the skills needed to identify any issues and manage them appropriately. These individuals may well need training on how to handle grievances, disciplinaries and performance management processes.
  3. Take action early. It is important to deal with issues as soon as they arise and ideally before they reach any formal process. It is helpful to try and encourage informal resolution where possible because in our experience once matters have reached a formal stage there is a significant increase in the likelihood of staff sickness absences, resignations and/or tribunal proceedings. Clearly there will still be occasions when swift, decisive action is necessary to establish clear boundaries around acceptable behaviour, for example bullying and harassment.
  4. Focus on dispute resolution. The report suggests that organisations need to place a greater emphasis on repairing employment relationships rather than looking to solve problems by dismissing individuals or managing them out of the business. Alongside this, it is important to maintain confidentiality where possible. The aim is to resolve conflict where possible and this may well involve the relevant individuals continuing to work together. As such it is essential to maintain the trust & confidence of those individuals.

Comments

The ACAS report is a timely reminder of the importance of effective dispute resolution within the workplace. As we begin to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic problems that were suppressed or perhaps hidden from view will come to the fore and employers need to be ready to deal with those issues promptly. The report has set out some sensible recommendations which we would encourage employers to adopt to help them manage conflict effectively.

Russell Brown

Author Russell Brown

Russell is a Partner and Head of Glaisyers' Employment Team.

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