How are organisations managing conflict in the workplace in the UK? by Dionne Dury of Resolution at Work

March 5th, 2020
CIPD West of England 27 Feb 2020

Resolution at Work workshop delivered in collaboration with CIPD West of England, 27 February 2020

We were recently delivering a workshop in collaboration with the West of England CIPD; the aim of which was to explore the variety of informal options available to resolve workplace conflict. It is a workshop that we have delivered a number of times, to line managers and HR professionals. What was interesting, in a room of circa sixty HR professionals, was a large number of tables opting for the same conflict resolution options. These options related to having more informal conversations to gather more information, coaching those involved to better manage conflict and considering mediation / neutral assessment.

This started me thinking whether there has been a shift in thinking following high profile scandals such as #MeToo and if so, how far organisations have come in moving away from divisive formal processes to a more inclusive culture where informal processes are seen as the first step in resolving interpersonal issues in the workplace?

Prior to the workshop the CIPD published a report entitled Managing Conflict in the Modern Workplace which details the results of a survey carried out by them in 2019 with over a 1,000 senior HR professionals and decision makers in the UK into conflict in the workplace. A similar report was carried out in 2015.

Whilst the 2020 report has some positive messages about the working climate in the UK and an improvement in employees feeling able to speak out about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace (perhaps in the wake of #MeToo) it is evident that there is still some way to go to change a culture that is reliant on formal processes to resolve interpersonal conflict.
Some of the findings of the reports are summarised below:

The scale of workplace conflict

In 2015 four in ten UK employees (38%) reported some form of interpersonal conflict at work; in 2019 26% said that conflict was a common occurrence.

Types of conflict

The most common type of conflict are differences in personality, styles of working and conflict between line managers direct reports. This is certainly true of my experience as a conflict resolution expert with a large proportion of our mediations being between a Manager and a direct report.

Managing conflict

Where we would hope to see a difference in the statistics being reported between 2015 and 2019, is the methods being deployed to manage conflict in the workplace. However, the results from the surveys show a worrying lack of movement away from the use of formal processes.

In 2015 there was a very low percentage of those employees who had experienced conflict in the last twelve months, having used mediation (only 1.5%), despite 46% of the employees who took the survey believing that mediation was an effective approach to dealing with workplace conflict. In 2019, although the percentage having used mediation has gone up (7%), the most popular methods for dealing with conflict are still disciplinary action (at 44%) and the grievance procedure (at 41%).

There has also been a decline in the use of two of the most popular informal approaches with 36% now training line managers in handling difficult conversations or managing conflict (versus 47% in 2015) and 26% using facilitated discussions / troubleshooting by HR department (versus 38% in 2015).

Barriers for managing conflict

So what are the largest barriers being reported by organisations in managing conflict? The 2020 survey lists the top three barriers as being:

  1. A lack of trust by employees in senior management;
  2. A lack of leadership and role-modelling by senior management; and
  3. Managers not having the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

What needs to be done?

The 2020 reports talks about building inclusive cultures based on prevention and the fact that whilst many organisations have dignity at work policies, the important thing being for senior management to live and breathe those values and being seen to challenge inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. It also talks about putting the ER back into HR, with conflict management having a core strategic focus.

At Resolution at Work we provide a number of training courses for HR professionals and line managers focusing on the skills to positively manage conflict in the workplace, as well as providing informal conflict resolution services. We can also help organisations to implement and embed mediation and informal conflict resolution approaches within their organisations.

For further information and to discuss these services please contact us at [email protected] or telephone 08000 489235.

By Dionne Dury

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