In my support of those in conflict I have become very aware of the impact conflict has on mental wellness. Employees in conflictare often under extreme stress and do not function as they normally would. Employees can find themselves in these difficult situations for a few days or a few years. They often have no awareness of the effect on their mental wellness. I went in search of some research in this area and wanted to share it today.
A paper written by Hydea, Jappinenb, Theorellc, and Oxenstiernac in 2000 examined workplace conflict resolution and the health of employees in Swedish and Finnish units of an industrial company. In this paper, the authors analysed the relationship between conflict management in the workplace and self-reported measures of stress, poor general health, exhaustion and sickness absence due to overstrain or fatigue. Their analyses revealed that those who report that differences are resolved through discussion are least likely to report stress, poor general health, exhaustion or sickness absence.
Binary logistic regression analyses were performed for all health outcomes controlling for age, sex, occupational group, job complexity, job autonomy and support from superiors. Results show significantly lower likelihoods of reporting stress, poor general health, exhaustion or sickness absence amongst employees who report that differences of opinion are resolved through discussion compared to those who report that no attempts are made.
The increased stress level of those who reported in the ‘no attempts’ category was very similar to those who indicated differences were resolved through use of authority. Again lower than the employees who resolved conflict through discussion, but similar to those who made no attempt to resolve.
The authors concluded that workplace conflict resolution is important in the physical and mental health of employees in addition to traditional psychosocial work environment risk factors.
Another paper by De Dreu, Dirk van Dierendonck,and Dijkstra (2004) investigated “CONFLICT AT WORK AND INDIVIDUAL WELL-BEING”. The authors found that conflict theory and research had previously largely ignored the possible relationships between conflict at work, and individual health, well being, and job satisfaction.
They presented a model that argued that poor health and well being can trigger conflict in the workplace, and reduce the extent to which conflict is managed in a constructive, problem solving way. They proposed that conflict, especially when managed poorly, can have negative long term consequences for individual health and well being, producing psychosomatic complaints and feelings of burnout. They reviewed research evidence and concluded, among other things, that the model is more likely to hold up when conflict involves relationships and socio-emotional, rather than task related issues.
The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety indicates that organizations need to commit to providing a psychologically healthy workplace. What can employers do? Along with seven other strategies to encourage positive mental health they recommend ‘to ensure organizations have conflict resolution practices in place.’ Support for employees in conflict will increase their own mental wellness, reduce sick times, costs and ensure the provision of a psychologically healthy workplace.
The Workplace Fairness Institute works to support organizations to be proactive with conflict through assessments, Ombuds functions and other services to ensure a psychologically healthy workplace.