CIPD Research on Causes and Approaches to Workplace Conflict.

April 8th, 2015

CIPD reports highlight the pivotal role of line managers. 

Recent CIPD research confirms that conflict is a common feature at work, that the role of line managers is pivotal and that employers are making increased use of mediation and other forms of dispute resolution. Details are summarised below together with how these findings mirror some analysis of my own mediation practice and experience.

The first report, Conflict management: A Shift in Direction, indicates that one in ten organisations reported having used external mediation in the last year; an increase of 33%. In addition there is an increase in employers investing in developing conflict resolution skills for managers and HR staff so that they are better placed to intervene or manage a difficult conversation. Over 50% of respondents in all sectors reported an increase in such training.

Interestingly there is an increased interest in using Settlement Agreements as a means of terminating employment without the need to go through a time consuming, and often painful, performance management process. However 40% felt that Settlement Agreements should only be used when other attempts to improve the situation have been utilised.

Getting Under the  Skin of Workplace Conflict reports that workplace conflict has been experienced by one in three employees in the past year with 28% of those indicating that this led to ongoing difficulties in working relationships. In 38% of cases the difficulties were said to involve conflict with line managers rather than colleagues.  Also concerns were far more likely to be highlighted by a junior  employee rather than a manager. This report also highlights the significant costs associated with unresolved conflict including loss of productivity, increased stress, sickness absence, loss of management time and in some cases increased turnover.

These reports demonstrate that the role of line managers is pivotal; managers have a crucial role in building teams with strong relationships where employees can challenge appropriately and where any conflict is managed in a positive way. Fortunately the research also suggests that employers are increasingly committed to investing resources in developing mangers skills in these areas and to resolving issues positively and in ways that seek to retain employees.

A bit of analysis of my own

The CIPD findings mirror the growth of the mediation instructions and in-house training that my business undertakes.

I have now been actively and regularly mediating workplace and employment disputes for around 4 years and thought it was about time to do some analysis of the type and growth of instructions and to identify any common themes. Over this period mediation instructions have grown by 61%, with incremental growth year on year. In-house training for mediation or conflict resolution skills for HR and line managers has also increased significantly. My recent book (and accompanying training) Mediation Skills for Managers focuses on how mediation skills and techniques can improve the ability to positively resolve conflict and day to day management of staff.

With regard to mediation instructions, I analysed theses on the basis of the parties concerned and the contributing factors.


  • Over the past year or so the biggest growth has been in relation to disputes that involve teams or groups of more than two individuals. This may simply reflect that external mediation is more likely to be utilised where there are complex issues and multi party disputes and I would be interested to hear of others experience or reflections on this.
  • The vast majority of disputes (90%) involve a manager and a single employee or team and 10% involve disputes between colleagues.

Screenshot 2015-03-30 19.12.35

Causes/contributing factors

I also analysed instructions on the basis of the causes or contributing factors and these are set out below (as percentages of the total instructions). Unsurprisingly perhaps communication features most highly; in reality this will have featured in every situation to some degree or other. The impact of change and management style are each a contributing factor in around 20% of cases. Often issues arise when there is a change of manager who adopts a different style and approach to how a team and the performance of individuals is managed.

12%  of cases are referred following a formal grievance or disciplinary process has been either initiated or exhausted.Screenshot 2015-04-02 19.22.19




It may be difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from my own analysis on what is inevitably a relatively small sample and a degree of subjective classification regarding causes or contributing factors. However, both my analysis and the CIPD research demonstrate that the role of the manager is clearly an important factor in many cases. This supports the need for managers to be skilled in such things as managing change, effective communication and conflict resolution as well as understanding the impact of change and unresolved conflict on others.




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The report was very professional, it dealt with all the issues raised and was particularly thorough. It clearly took the time to fully understand all of the issues and background. It was complex but the report really helped to break it down and I’m hoping we can progress in a positive manner following the recommendations.

Group HR Manager, Energy Sector |

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