One sad fact of working life is that conflicts occur in almost every workplace. Whether as the result of a simple personality clash, a failed romantic relationship, or more serious cases of bullying or sexual harassment, most of us have experienced a workplace where there was a level of conflict among our colleagues.
Too often the result of interpersonal conflicts at work is damaging to the company. Productivity is lowered as workers are distracted from their roles, managers spend more and more time dealing with personnel issues, and the stress can have a disastrous impact on the mental and physical welfare of employees and managers. This last point is vital, and affects not just those people involved in the conflict, but those who work around them.
The Costs of Conflict
Workplace conflict also comes with financial costs, especially when they end up in the formal resolution process. CIPD estimates that British managers spend on average 18 days a year engaged on the disciplinary process, and a further 14 days dealing with grievances. That’s a month of management time that could be more productively spent on other tasks.
Things get even more expensive if the issue cannot be solved within the company. Defending a case at an employment tribunal typically costs around £3,000 in legal fees, and even more if you are found at fault and have to pay compensation.
Getting Ahead of the Game
With such high costs to spiralling workplace conflict, clearly there’s an advantage to dealing with tensions early. By resolving issues between staff before they become formal grievances, not only do you save on the costs of those processes, but you will have a more productive and cohesive team.
The improvement to your team happens in two ways. Firstly you remove the negative impact of workplace conflict. Tension in the workplace creates stress for everybody in it, and eventually people will leave, either due to stress-related health issues, or simply seeking a happier work environment.
The second benefit of early dispute resolution is the direct result of effective conflict resolution. Many of the methods used to resolve conflicts, such as improving communication, clarifying leadership chains or removing areas of dispute from your business provide transferable skills. An employee taught effective communication skills to help avoid conflict will also use those skills to talk more effectively with clients, suppliers and colleagues.
Mediation – Finding a Better Way
However well your workplace functions, sooner or later a conflict will probably arise. One of the most effective ways of handling these problems, without the costs to your business described above, is early mediation.
Mediation is a voluntary process that both parties commit to, looking to find ways to resolve a problem in a proactive manner. Working with a qualified impartial professional, the people involved share their feelings and experiences about the conflict. The mediator will then explore these issues with the two sides, individually and together, helping them to find a way forward that resolves the issue. This process allows conflicts to be solved in a way that leaves everybody with a better understanding of how the other people felt, as well as saving considerably on the costs of escalating problems in the workplace.