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Conflict resolution in a hybrid workplace

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One of the emerging challenges of the working from home culture that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic for HR teams is conflict resolution in the workplace. Any assumption that just because workers are physically remote and, therefore, conflict between staff members is less likely, may be misplaced. 

According to a behavioural insights advisor with Bupa UK, new unhealthy behaviour can occur from home working; referred to as ‘digital toxicity’. Working from home adds new pressures, including the expectation to always be available, the inability of staff to have informal conversations outside the forum of virtual communication programmes like Zoom, and the lack of feeling listened to. 

One of the benefits of being in an office is that we can pick up the feelings, gestures, and overall mood of our colleagues and take action to provide them with support. 

Home working may result in conflict between team members going unnoticed or even being completely hidden from other colleagues. Here we take a look at the impact conflict and disputes can have in the workplace and the steps you can take to resolve them. 

What causes conflicts in the workplace?

Conflict in the workplace can be caused by a wide range of factors, some of which HR departments have greater control over and some of which they have less ability to influence. Factors which are likely to increase workplace conflict between workers include:

  • Personality clashes
  • Promotion
  • Absence and absence management
  • Value clashes
  • An overly competitive culture
  • Poor communication
  • Excessive workload
  • Roles that overlap or are not clearly defined in scope     
  • Lack of equal opportunities or treatment
  • Not being listened to
  • Not listening to staff
  • Workplace change
  • Conflicts arising from unresolved issues
  • Lack of training on ethics, values, behaviour, and how to report bullying or victimisation, and
  • Poor supervision

How can conflict be resolved?

Initiate mediation earlier

All too often, methods that can prove highly effective in bringing about a resolution to conflicts are used far too late. This may be because some existing HR processes and procedures view mediation as a step in a formal process. 

The risk of waiting too late and over-formalising the process is that the conflict can get out of hand and cause considerable damage if not dealt with early. This is backed up by research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) that found “employers are not making the most of the potential of early dispute resolution approaches like mediation to help settle disputes”. 

By inviting employees experiencing conflict to enter into mediation earlier to find common ground, it is possible to shift the focus towards a positive resolution rather than a protracted formal and potentially negative process.

Support for front-line managers

With the trend towards asking more and more of front-line managers in an operational capacity, there is less time for them to manage their team. 

Front line managers in an operational capacity are being asked more and more off, meaning there’s less time for them to manage their team.

CIPD’s research shows that managers often feel least confident when it comes to people management. This highlights the importance of putting in place regular training to empower team leaders to spot and deal with the signs of team conflict with speed and confidence. 

Prevention methods for employers

Taking action to reduce workplace conflict before it arises is key. HR teams can achieve this in a number of ways, including:

  • Carrying out a periodic HR risk assessment to spot potential areas of conflict and seek to resolve them before disagreements arise
  • Encouraging staff to report potential conflicts before they arise and then take action accordingly 
  • Developing a healthy ethos and culture that encourages openness, transparency, and respect when it comes to how the actions of one person can negatively impact the feelings of another
  • Regular training explaining the signs of conflict and how it can be resolved

By taking a proactive approach to conflict management, it is possible to nip disagreements in the bud, resulting in more amicable relationships and mitigating the damage that can be caused by discord between staff.

What can you do if disputes cannot be resolved?

If conflict cannot be resolved through in-house mediation, there may be other solutions that could resolve the matter, such as changing team structures and workplace locations. If there is no clear solution, consider engaging an external specialist in conflict resolution. Specialists who are trained in a range of conflict resolution techniques are highly effective in resolving even the most difficult and protracted of disagreements. 

If not identified early and resolved quickly, workplace conflicts can lead to stress and anxiety, increased sickness absence, legal disputes, dismissal, disciplinary action and a drop in productivity, motivation, and commitment. By adopting a proactive approach that enables the prevention or early resolution of conflicts, any fall-out can be kept to a minimum. 

HR teams can play a key role in creating a healthy culture that encourages staff to listen to others about their feelings and empowers managers with the confidence to deal with conflict quickly and positively.