Conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. Everyone has experienced it to some degree. Some conflict can be positive and constructive, but more often, it can be damaging and destructive to an organisation and intervention will usually be required to get a working relationship back on track.
When disputes occur, it will almost always result in a stressful and unpleasant working environment for the people involved and colleagues who have to work alongside them. This can lead to a lack of productivity, higher rates of absenteeism, or even employment tribunal claims.
A recent report published by Acas put the annual cost of workplace conflict at a staggering £28.5 billion per year. The report also suggested that increased remote working will almost certainly make workplace disputes harder to manage.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the greatest cost of workplace conflict is in the form of staff turnover. The total cost of terminating employment relationships, whether through resignation or dismissal, and replacing employees amounting to a whopping £2.6 billion a year. Nearly half a million employees resign each year as a result of conflict.
The cost of absence resulting from conflict is £2.2 billion, with 874,000 employees taking time off due to workplace disputes each year.
It is not unusual for businesses and internal HR teams to jump straight into formal processes such as grievances or disciplinaries whenever conflict arises, as evidenced by the fact that there are 1.7 million formal disciplinary cases each year in the UK, and nearly 375,000 grievance investigations. In total, formal procedures, which include grievances, disciplinary cases and conduct dismissals, cost businesses £12.8 billion annually. When we consider that on average, each formal process costs an employer around £950 in management time alone, not to mention the intangible costs applicable to morale and motivation, it may be time to start considering alternative forms of dispute resolution.
As part of its report, Acas reviewed data from the CIPD’s 2019 workplace conflict survey, which demonstrated that 35% of respondents had experienced either an isolated dispute or incident of conflict, or an ongoing difficult working relationship over the relevant time period. Of these, just 5% had taken part in some form of workplace mediation. The truly interesting stat and one to take away is that of those that did go through mediation, three-quarters believed that their conflict was either fully resolved or significantly improved.
The Acas report reinforces the benefits to employers of seeking early resolution of conflicts. It places an emphasis on repairing employment relationships and creating multiple channels where employees can access support. Workplace mediation is the ideal tool for this. It is an informal, quick and cost-effective means of repairing working relationships.
So, who can perform the role of a mediator? In simple terms, it can be anyone, although consideration should be given to who is likely to allow the parties to reach the most positive outcome. Considering that over 60% of the managers surveyed in the Acas report stated that they had never received any people management training, it may be advisable to appoint a suitably qualified, external, impartial person.
It is important to note that the mediator’s role is not to make a judgement on who’s right and who’s in the wrong in any given situation. In fact, the mediator shouldn’t be making any decisions at all during mediation, regardless of what they may feel. Rather, their role is to facilitate constructive dialogue to help all parties understand the issues involved and encourage positive action. A line manager with firsthand knowledge of the dispute may struggle to maintain the degree of impartiality required to reach a positive conclusion.
At EML, we appreciate the difficulty that employers face when they encounter workplace conflict and offer a professional mediation service delivered by an accredited consultant designed to facilitate conflict resolution.
If you are an employer faced with a pending conflict situation, or if you are simply being pro-active in making arrangements for conflict resolution in general, please contact us in confidence and without obligation for an initial discussion.