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Workplace conflict costs (but you knew that, right?)

Did you know that unresolved workplace conflict costs Australian organisations millions of dollars each year? How much is it costing your business or department?

Workplace conflict is an all-too-common occurrence that can have a significant impact on both individual employees and the overall success of organisations. If left unaddressed, it can severely hamper productivity, morale, team effectiveness and culture. And yep… if these things are impacted it’s going to cost you money. By proactively managing and resolving conflicts, businesses can create a harmonious work environment that fosters employee satisfaction and actually drives financial growth.

But everyone has conflict, right?

Yes, and having constructive conflict can actually be healthy for an organisation. But unchecked, malicious and secret conflict can cause major damage. If it’s not dealt with; if the hard conversations aren’t had or the “head in the sand” approach is taken, then things are going to go bad. Sometimes, they’re irreversible.  If you invite the elephant into the organisation as a young baby and leave it unchecked, it will become a big, stinky immovable elephant!

Workplace conflict refers to interpersonal disputes, disagreements, or tensions that arise among employees within an organisation. It can manifest in various forms, including verbal arguments, conflicts of goals or values, ghosting, bullying, harassment, complaints, backstabbing, “white anting” and breakdowns in communication.

Typically, it stems from factors like differing opinions, competition for resources or recognition, inadequate communication, power imbalances, or conflicting work styles. Often the root cause is a lack of leadership, a secretive culture or issues related to accountability. These underlying causes will escalate into larger conflicts if not addressed promptly.

Unresolved conflict can wreak havoc on workplace dynamics, leading to decreased teamwork, increased stress levels, decreased morale, and lowered productivity. Throw into the mix higher turnover (employees will tend to move onto to other places) and you have a recipe for disaster. As well as all this, conflict within teams disrupts collaboration and teamwork, hindering the flow of ideas and impeding progress. And when it’s not addressed, it can splinter teams and create factions, hindering effective communication and fostering a siloed mentality.

And with a significant emphasis on psychosocial health, leaving conflict unresolved (or worse still, just ignoring it) will place the psychological health of employees at risk.

Conflict-related issues can also harm your organisation’s reputation and deter potential clients or customers. Negative word-of-mouth and public perception can lead to a loss of trust, ultimately impacting a company’s bottom line. And there it is again…. Conflict will cost you money!

There are lots of strategies for addressing workplace conflict, including training mid-level managers, team leaders and supervisors to have difficult conversations, to formal mediation. Open communication and active listening are a good place to start. Knowing how to identify conflict and then deal with it are a set of skills that will help leaders address the problems. Here’s some other key points:

  • Watching what people say, do and how they act is important
  • Foster an environment of openness and transparency
  • Seek, give and receive constructive feedback at every level
  • Addressing small things quickly is vital (Eat the Elephant)

The worst thing that can be done in relation to conflict in an organisation is… nothing. Thinking it will get better, moving someone on, bullying people to exit left or changing things around won’t work. It doesn’t address the root causes. Training and developing those in leadership positions in conflict management will go a long way towards a more harmonious organisation.

And, it will impact on your bottom line.

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