Causes of conflict
Every employee has needs and certain expectations at work, and conflict could arise when people feel that these are not being met or are being ignored.
- poor management
- unfair treatment
- unclear job roles
- inadequate training
- poor communication
- poor work environment
- lack of equal opportunities
- bullying and harassment
- new changes to products, organisational charts, appraisals or pay systems
Other major causes include:
- Personalities – the ‘personality mix’ within a team can be upset when a new member of staff joins or if two colleagues suddenly fall out. Individuals may also respond to difficult or challenging situations in an unhelpful or unproductive way.
- Needs and expectations – conflict at work can often be caused when employers ignore the needs of employees or set unrealistic expectations. For example, arranging hours that make it difficult for employees to carry out childcare responsibilities.
- Values – most people have very clear ideas about what they think is fair, and your organisation’s procedures and policies must reflect this. For example, giving someone a fair hearing or explaining the reasoning behind a decision.
- Unresolved issues – for example, an employee might ask to be moved to another team because of their manager’s ‘aggressive’ leadership style. However, the employee may have other reasons – for example, they may blame their manager for a lack of training or career progression.
- Increase in workload – sometimes conflict is caused because people feel they are being pushed too hard and that ‘something has to give’.
It is important to understand the root cause of an individual’s or group’s unhappiness. For example, a person in a team may seem to be struggling with an unmanageable workload, but they may be resentful of another employee who appears to have less to do. It may also be a result of organisational changes, restructuring, or promotions given to other staff.
To help you manage conflict, look at the previous relationship between the employee and their manager, and their peers for signs of past conflict and feelings which may influence them.
You can put policies and procedures in place to help prevent and manage conflict. For more information see the page in this guide on preventing conflict.
Coping with change
Change can make employees feel vulnerable and uncertain, as they worry about their future career prospects. Therefore, managers should communicate and consult with employees about future changes so that they don’t feel alienated and raise grievances
When a conflict arises you should try to take a calm approach and not react in a challenging way. You should also not ignore the problem and hope that it will go away.
The best way to handle conflict is to face it and have a planned approach. If you have policies or procedures in place, you can use these to determine how you approach the issue or to give your employee an idea of how you will approach addressing the problem. It may help to have an employee representative and/or a senior manager who can help if:
- employees find it difficult to confront their managers and make a complaint
- you are not able to speak to each employee individually
You should allow everyone to clear the air and have their say. Employees need to know who they can go to when they have issues and that they will be taken seriously.
It is important that you make an informed decision by gathering information from everyone involved. You should think about what would be the best outcome for everyone involved, including the business itself.
You should make sure that your grievance procedure is up to date and communicated to all staff, discussed at team meetings and at individual appraisals. These procedures will also help deal with issues such as bullying, absence and misconduct.
Upgrade your skills
Having one-to-one conversations requires sensitivity and empathy. You should always make sure that you:
- listen to what an employee says
- question them calmly to understand any underlying problems
- consider problems from a variety of perspectives
- lead by example
- comply with the latest employment laws
- have up to date policies on dispute resolution procedures
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.