July 12, 2020

Looking for trouble? Workplace Conflict

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A recent survey by the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) examined employees’ experiences of conflict in their workplaces (“Getting under the skin of workplace conflict: Tracing the experiences of employees”, CIPD April 2015).

The survey found that 40% of employees reported some form of interpersonal conflict in the preceding 12 months.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, conflict was most common with one’s line manager, colleagues, or those to whom one’s line manager reports i.e. the people one finds most difficult to avoid.  Conflict was more frequent with superiors than with subordinates and conflict with line managers had the most serious consequences for motivation and stress.

The CIPD survey found that the most common contributors to conflict were differences in personality and styles of working.  These findings support a relational view of conflict, but the survey also found support for an issue–based view: individual performance, target-setting, level of support and resources were common reasons, much more so that employment contracts or promotions.

The most commonly found negative behaviour reported in the survey was a lack of respect. Other reported behaviours were bullying, refusal to cooperate, shouting and verbal abuse.  The authors noted major perception gaps in the behaviour experienced – we tend to be consistently more favourable in interpreting our own behaviour than that of others  – “ I was assertive”  but “he was aggressive”.

The most common reported effect of conflict was that people found it stressful and this affected their motivation or commitment.  Less frequent but still significant were drops in productivity or relationships becoming unworkable.  One in ten cases resulted in one of the parties to the conflict moving job or leaving the organisation.

The survey found that in coping with conflict, informal approaches such as talking directly to the other party to the conflict, or discussing the conflict with line other managers or HR, were much more common than resorting to formal procedures.   Formal grievance or disciplinary procedures were only used in about 10% of cases.

Interestingly, organisational size seems to be important in the frequency of interpersonal conflict, but the critical difference seems to be not between large and medium or small organisations but between micro-organisations and anything larger, where micro means fewer than 10 employees.

So whether or not (very) small is more beautiful, it does seem to be a little more peaceful.
You can read the survey report here.