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What are ‘the norms’ in your business?  What habits have staff developed to help them ‘cope’ with the situation, rather than excel?  In our new post-lockdown working environments, it is critical for leaders and managers to address the issues which may be rumbling under the surface, waiting to explode, or are slowly eroding away productivity.

According to a recent study by CIPD (Managing Conflict in the Workplace, 2020) “Employer perceptions of how well their organisation deals with conflict are not matched by employee perceptions of how well their organisation handled the conflict they experienced”.  The situation can either be ignored or unnoticed by senior managers, or worse perpetuated by them.

Individuals often take an ‘it must be me’ attitude to issues of conflict, bullying and harassment at work. They don’t realise that there is often a wider picture; individuals, teams and the organisational culture as a whole can lead to ongoing performance-sapping conflict and intractable disagreements. The environment created by the senior leadership team often means there is a lack of action and negative conflict is not necessarily seen as a priority.

According to CIPD, these negative effects of conflict on people at work can be many and varied. “Some of the most common consequences are psychological or behavioural, with stress, drops in motivation or commitment and anxiety being the top three. The majority of all negative impacts are significantly more likely to be experienced by non-managers compared with managers.”

Bullying, harassment, conflict, racism and tensions are prevalent in many workplaces, without leaders being aware.  Managers can listen, but not actually hear what is being said, or don’t act on what they are being told.  This is either because they don’t know how to act, or because the system within which they operate is part of the problem.

CIPD note that: “Less than half of employees who had a serious conflict in the last 12 months (44%) say the conflict or difficult relationship has so far been fully or largely resolved, with over a third (36%) reporting it has not been resolved.”

So, what to do about it?

The CIPD report confirms that just over a third (35%) have experienced some form of interpersonal conflict at work over the last year, either an isolated dispute or incident of conflict or an ongoing difficult relationship. So, chances are this could be the case in your organisation.

Leaders need to stop and listen to what their staff are saying, understand the problems and then take action to resolve any issues.

In the first instance have conversations. It doesn’t have to be a formal process, but you do need to listen and hear what you are being told.  Speak to your staff and get their feedback.  Find out from the wider team how they feel.

Once you have a good understanding of your organisational culture, you can then go about addressing any issues which have been identified.

If you feel the situation may have gone too far for you to address directly, I offer a comprehensive investigation and report service. I speak to staff confidentially on your behalf, analyse what they have said and identify the consistent themes. I then produce a comprehensive report, highlighting the themes, complete with actions to help manage the situation and improve your workplace culture.

Whatever you do, do something – don’t ignore it!  Conflicts and disputes can and will escalate, and they have a massive impact on the overall productivity and culture of your organisation.