In 2017 the Ontario Ministry of Labour shared their top 10 list of health and safety violations – violence and harassment was number one. New harassment compliance in Ontario was about a year old at the time. Here in Alberta, our own Occupational Health and Safety department recently added workplace harassment and violence regulations. Organizations here are now realizing that addressing these issues is a high priority in the creation of a safe workplace.
Studies show that presented with a list of possible triggers of bullying, unresolved conflicts belonged to the top five most indicated causes of bullying (Zapf, 1999). Never has it been more important to address conflicts quickly and effectively and ensure employees have options for successfully resolving conflicts informally.
Results from a survey report conducted in 2015 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) one of the world’s largest HR professional body, into the management of conflict at work supported this statement. Their survey, Getting Under the Skin of Workplace Conflict found that 40% of employees report some form of interpersonal conflict at work in the last year, either an isolated dispute or incident of conflict and/or an ongoing difficult relationship.
Conflict was shown to be most common with employees’ line managers. This conflict was viewed as being the most serious and having the greatest impact on motivation and stress. A sign of the impact of power dynamics in conflict, which in turn highlights the need for effective conflict resolution skills in line managers.
The most common negative behaviour reported in conflict was a lack of respect, highlighting that a major aspect of conflict boils down to failing to relate to each other as individuals in a healthy way. Aside from this, the survey found a wide spread of reported behaviours, including bullying and refusal to co-operate, shouting and verbal abuse. Another example that unresolved conflict can lead to these behaviours and create an unsafe workplace.
The report has important implications for forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) such as mediation and facilitated discussions. The authors indicate it is crucial to have a balanced suite of options for conflict resolution. They suggested it should include approaches such as mediation, which are currently rarer options than formal channels, but provide an important way to facilitate informal discussions. Results indicated that when organizations relied on formal processes, such as grievance and discipline procedures alone, it often meant that conflict festered escalating to a serious level. These findings point to an unmet need for support in resolving conflict informally, person to person. Although formal channels remain a necessary tool and can be effective a great deal of conflict may be unsuited to these methods and the cost – to the individuals involved and the organization – of not plugging this gap may be high.
In order to thrive and survive organizations need to focus on reducing unproductive or unresolved conflict within their ranks. Employees need to know they have other options to resolve their conflict if reaching out to their manager or director is not successful, or if the conflict is with them. Options such as HR assisted mediation, conflict coaching, an external Ombudsman office, a confidential support line, external mediation and conflict resolution training allow employees to feel they have more control in what may be otherwise viewed as a hopeless situation.
Workplace Fairness supports organizations across Canada in the informal resolution of conflict by mediation, facilitation and Ombuds office or support line services. Our training and coaching in the areas of respectful workplace, conflict resolution and communication can set up your employees and managers for success. We believe that Psychological health and safety is AS important as physical health and safety.
You can find a copy of the April 2015 Survey Report, Getting under the skin of conflict: Tracing the experiences of employees by the CIPD here: https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/getting-under-skin-workplace-conflict_2015-tracing-experiences-employees_tcm18-10800.pdf