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When Sparks Fly: Handling Conflict with Professionalism and Grace

According to the CIPD’s People Management publication, a ¼ of UK employees have experienced workplace conflict in the past year, with women, ethnic minorities and disabled workers being the most likely to report this experience.

The most prevalent types of conflict include, being humiliated or undermined at work (48 %), being shouted at or having a heated argument (35 %), verbal abuse or insult (34 %) and discriminatory behaviour (20 %).

Like it or not, conflict at work can significantly impact workforce productivity in several ways.

Distraction and Reduced Focus:

Let’s face it, few of us actively seek out conflict, and when our time and mental energy is focused on how we’re feeling, there is less space to focus on work.

Decreased Morale and Engagement

Ongoing conflict can lower employee morale, leading to decreased engagement. Employees may feel upset, angry or fearful, affecting their willingness to perform at their best.

Increased Stress and Absenteeism:

Time spent thinking about difficulties with colleagues can increase feelings of stress among employees. This can lead to higher absenteeism, as employees may take more sick days to avoid the situation which they believe is causing them distress.

Collaboration and Communication Breakdown:

Avoiding colleagues can affect teamwork and collaboration, leading to blockages in workflows, while misunderstandings and communication breakdowns often arise from and contribute to conflict.

Managers may in turn, have to spend significant time trying to resolve conflicts instead of focusing on strategic initiatives, hindering overall organisational performance.

So what can HR do to help?

Consider Communication Training

We all talk to one another daily, and equipping employees with communication skills to express their concerns constructively and listen actively to others is a great place to start

Promote a Positive Work Environment

Encourage a culture of respect, inclusivity, and teamwork to enhance employee involvement

Leadership and Management Training

Ensure managers are equipped to recognise early signs of conflict and handle them proactively before they escalate.  It may be as simple as having regular one to one’s with staff and picking up on any tension amongst the team.


Conflict Resolution Mechanisms

Like most things, prevention is often better than cure.

A positive and inclusive workplace is built on acceptance of all, regardless of background and the premise that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Employers should strive to develop cultures where harassment is known to be unacceptable, where employees feel comfortable to speak up to each other as well as their manager, safe in the knowledge that they will be heard, and the matter will be treated seriously.

HR professionals can play an important role in promoting such cultures but not in a reactive way.  The focus should be on developing ways to address conflict early before it starts to impact on staff wellbeing.

Have you considered how well your organisation is identifying and managing conflict; it may well be something to add to the agenda

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