Some conflict within the workplace can be positive, creating cultures that are open to challenging established thinking and allow healthy debate. Competition between groups can encourage creativity and increase productivity. However workforces are becoming increasingly diverse with a multiplicity of views and values. This mix can cause conflict between individuals and groups.
The costs of conflict can be high with formal grievances taking on average up to seven days of management time to complete. Formal processes can be stressful for the parties involved and can lead to sickness absence or lower productivity. The effects of conflict often spread to the wider team who may be called upon to act as witnesses thereby forcing them to become involved.
Colleagues may also be affected indirectly by the conflict resulting in loss of focus due to poor working atmosphere, distraction, low morale. If conflicts become protracted this can result in a higher turnover of staff.
If conflicts escalate they can result in legal claims being made against employers in an employment tribunal. As well as the costs of mounting a defence to a claim there may be settlement sums or financial awards to be paid. There is also the potential loss of reputation if the judgement goes against the employer.
Formal processes for addressing workplace conflict are typically adversarial in nature requiring a manager to hear both sides of a dispute and determine right and wrong in the case. This type of process takes the responsibility for resolving the conflict away from the parties and generally results in at least one employee remaining unhappy with the outcome. Mediation is a voluntary “party-centred” process which is facilitated by a trained mediator. The role of the Mediator is to provide the parties with a safe and confidential environment in which to come to an understanding of others perspectives and develop mutual empathy. The Mediator helps to identify the key issues, effects and possible outcomes and assists the parties to reach an agreement on what language, practices or behaviours need to change in order to fulfil their needs for a positive working relationship. (Stone King has a team of accredited Mediators who provide a national service to clients).
The majority of mediations are concluded within a day and so is generally less costly than formal processes. The parties retain responsibility for resolving their own conflict and so are more likely to keep to any agreement that they reach. The process can also give parties the confidence to address and resolve future conflict without the need for a manager to intervene.
Mediation can be helpful at any stage of a conflict but the earlier it is used the more likely the outcome will be positive. Typically cases referred include such issues as: breakdowns in relationships between employees and line managers; perceived bullying or harassment; personality clashes; or breakdowns in communication. In more serious cases it can also assist with re-building relationships following formal processes.