It is often assumed by businesses that there is a good and positive working atmosphere. Indeed, the feelings of employees can sometimes be taken for granted. However, it is vital to understand that the issue of workplace conflict can often be found simmering just under the surface and that it doesn’t take much for it to spill over and become a major issue.
In one recent report, more than 24 million American employees left their jobs between April and September 2021 citing ‘toxic culture’ in the workplace as the biggest driver behind this so-called ‘Great Resignation’. In many cases, businesses aren’t even aware that this conflict was taking place before the resignation happens. But losing key members of staff simply because there was unresolved conflict at work is a huge problem.
Your staff are the backbone of your organization and losing strong performers for no reason other than they don’t want to work there anymore can be massively financially damaging. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the overall commercial cost of workplace conflict and find ways to diffuse and minimize it.
A Changed Working Environment
Undoubtedly one of the areas hanging over the working environment in many businesses is the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has altered the way that we consider work. In the past, remote work was seen as something of a rarity – rolled out only for those who had a specific need for remote working or in order to bring in skills that aren’t locally available.
But under the pandemic, remote working became a significant part of normality for many companies. This has led to some level of political complexity in companies. For example, there were some businesses that allowed some employees to work from home as a specifically earned privilege, or indeed as a financial benefit specifically stated in their contract. If everyone has the right work remote whenever they want to, seeing it as something to earn or as a benefit goes away.
“The pandemic and consequential restrictions resulted in many employers having to make arrangements for home working for a significant number of employees,” explains lawyer Claire Pizzarello, who works specifically in civil litigation for the firm Hassans. “But an employee does not have an automatic right to work from home, and there are numerous costs, practical and legal considerations that employers need to give thought to when deciding if home working is appropriate”.
Has Remote Working Led to More Workplace Conflicts?
It is important to ask ourselves, then, has remote working actually contributed to a rise in workplace conflict. And does the commercial cost of this conflict outweigh the benefits of remote working?
“With so many employees now ‘out of sight’, there is a real risk that conflict goes unnoticed or is avoided until it grows to an unmanageable level,” says Anna Shields, writing for Personnel Today. “Reading body language is much more difficult when we’re not physically face-to-face. Missing these vital visual cues often leads to misinterpretation of others’ intentions.”
This is borne out by the fact that 80% of remote workers report that they have experienced workplace conflict. This could potentially indicate that the presence of remote workers in an organization can potentially exacerbate the issues surrounding workplace conflict and bring them to the foreground.
Workplace Conflicts Costs More than Just Staff Losses
The important thing to note here is that while we have seen that workplace conflict can manifest itself in members of staff leaving, and result in all of the associated costs revolving around the loss of skills and challenges in recruitment, conflict actually impacts organizations financially in a much broader range of ways.
Some of the most common and challenging costs include resolving grievances, carrying out disciplinary action, and challenges around dismissal. Remember as well that problems in the workplace can lead to a loss of morale, additional stress, and a negative workplace atmosphere, and these can impact performance, productivity, and efficiency.
In recent estimates, workplace conflict costs US employers around $359 billion each year. This makes it a truly colossal potential expense, and one that some businesses simply cannot afford. This shows the importance of finding ways to diffuse the commercial cost of workplace conflict.
Key Ways to Diffuse the Cost of Workplace Conflicts
There are actually a number of different steps that businesses can take to minimize and mitigate conflict in the workplace. Some of the key methods include:
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