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Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Posted: 21/09/20 by HR Solutions

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

The last few months have been extremely challenging to both business and employees and consequently, a lot of change is taking place with restructuring and making redundancies. Research also suggests that half of employers still anticipate redundancies when furlough ends in October. The consequences of change such as this can lead to disgruntled employees, employees disagreeing with decisions made or feelings of unfair treatment in how they are being managed at this challenging time. Conflict in the workplace is an obstruction and so resolving disputes will be key to moving your business forward through change.

Conflict: what is it, what can cause it and what are the effects?

People see the world in different ways and employees bring different experiences and perspectives to the organisation, and so people will react differently to situations. Conflict is about a difference of opinion between people, but there can be constructive, positive conflict as well as negative conflict.

Conflict can be used positively such as where problem solving is required, or where a strategy needs defining and gathering people’s views are vital. Where conflict becomes negative is where disagreements between people holding opposing views and principals begin to have a detrimental impact. This can be either on the wider team, the business, or the individual themselves.

In a recent survey about managing conflict carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), it found that 26% of employees and 20% of Employers said that conflict at work is a common occurrence.

Some examples of what can cause conflict:

• One-off disagreement
• Personality Clash
• Ongoing difficult relationship
• Poor management
• Ambiguous job roles
• Poor communication
• Unfair Treatment.

In the same CIPD survey, when it analysed the triggers for conflict and found that 46% respondents attributed it to differences in personality or working styles. 36% related to individual competence or performance (i.e. performance management), 22% to the amount of level of support/resources and 20% relating to deliverables or the setting of targets.

The impact that conflict can have on an individual, the team, and wider workplace, includes under performance, productivity issues, informal/formal grievances, workplace stress and sickness absence. According to the CIPD research, it found that the biggest impact of conflict was stress (48%).

Here are the other findings:

  • Stress 48%
  • Demotivation 40%
  • Anxiety 36%
  • Loss of self confidence 30%
  • Depression 22%
  • Unworkable relationships 20%
  • A drop in productivity 19%
  • Sickness absence 9%

Source - CIPD Managing Conflict in the Workplace January 2020


It is important to highlight that if the return to the workplace post lockdown is not managed carefully, there is potential for conflict. With Covid-19, organisations are having to make difficult decisions all the time and quickly adapt to the ever-changing situation. You may find conflict arising from:

• Having to make redundancies, and who is selected
• Who you keep on furlough and who you bring back
• Measures you put in place to make the workplace Covid-Secure
• Managing business needs alongside employees who may have challenging personal circumstances (caring responsibilities, childcare needs or who are shielding)
• How you manage pay when an employee returns from an overseas holiday and must quarantine.

There are all challenging aspects of managing people and if not managed effectively, or consistently can lead to unrest, and if not managed, have the potential for grievances, or even whistleblowing claims.

Preventing Conflict

Very often dealing with negative conflict is reactionary to a situation, but it should be about creating a culture that prevents it. Of course, not all conflict can be prevented, but as Line Managers, having the skills and confidence to intervene early to address minor disagreements to prevent escalation or issues festering, the better the working environment will be to the individual, and therefore individual performance, the wider team and ultimately the business.

Here are some ways in which you can build a culture that aims to prevent conflict in the workplace:

• Understanding your employees as people and as individuals by knowing their own working style as well as what may be happening outside of work
• Identify where there may be tensions in the team and be proactive to drive positive relationships encouraging collaboration
• Set clear goals and objectives and realistic timescales for individuals and the team
• Set out clearly your expectations in terms of how people treat each other, their general conduct, and standards of work
• Manage behaviour in your teams and be prepared to act under the organisation’s policies and procedures, such as Performance Management Policy or Disciplinary Policy or Absence Management.
• Remain objective and act consistently in the decisions you take
• Encourage team working and welcome everybody’s contribution
• Maintain privacy and confidentiality of your team members personal matters
• Explore workplace issues early and thoroughly.

Resolving Conflict

There are several ways to resolve conflict; informally or formally. It is hoped that in most cases, an informal approach can be adopted to resolve the matter. Such as in the case of minor disagreements, poor attendance, or personality clashes, talking over people or just differences in work style.

Employers should make every effort to resolve the conflict informally. However, there are occasions that it is appropriate to go straight to the formal process, i.e. either the conflict is extremely serious, such as allegations of discrimination or allegations of bullying or harassment or the employee has requested the matter be formally investigated. We will cover grievances specifically further on in this article.

Effective Communication

The key to resolving conflict is effective communication. Being able to effectively communicate can resolve misunderstandings, ensure people feel as though they have been listened to, and that they have been treated seriously and fairly. It can also help you to get to the root cause of an issue and take necessary steps to stop the matter from escalating.

Taking action to resolve conflict is a fundamental part of the Line Manager’s role. Being aware of what is going on within your team is crucial not just for effective performance but employee engagement. If you believe there is a problem in the team, then being proactive by initiating informal discussions between relevant parties will be key. Letting matters fester and escalate will only lead to feelings of resentment, stress, sickness absence or even formal grievances.

For further guidance on the conflict resolution related topics listed below read the full article at

• Mediation
• Grievance
• Legal Considerations.

Further HR Guidance

• Webinar Recording: you can watch the HR Solutions webinar recording about Conflict Resolution, on demand via our webinar library at

• Chamber Member to Member Offers: As a fellow member of the Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce, you can take advantage of free and discounted, ‘Member 2 Member’ offers on HR Solutions outsourced HR services to help take the stress out of managing your workforce. To find out more visit

• HR Knowledge Base: this online portal is the go-to resource for thousands of business owners and managers across the UK. The HR Knowledge Base includes HR documents, templates, legal updates, news and hot topic articles as well as access to free webinars and HR seminars. To find out more call 0844 324 5840 or visit

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