How to deal with conflict at the workplace

How to deal with conflict at the workplace

At some point organisations will need to consider how to deal with conflict at the workplace. Without care such a situation can have a disastrous effect on employees’ health, the productivity of the organisation and may even result in an Employment Tribunal claim being brought. This blog will provide tips to effectively manage conflict and reduce the likelihood of the disastrous consequences described above.

How to deal with conflict at the workplace – 5 tips for employers

1. Be proactive

Conflict at the workplace can take many forms. Perhaps there has been a disagreement which has escalated and created an unpleasant atmosphere, a forceful personality has unsettled others, or perhaps the cause of the problem is bullying, discrimination or harassment.

Whatever the issue, it is important that employees feel able to express what has happened and have confidence that it will be resolved properly. An example of being proactive could be having an ‘open door policy’ so employees can always speak to someone. Another example would be  employers having regular contact with their employees so that the organisation is aware of, and able to respond to, anything unusual or out of character such as an employee being more introverted, having a higher level of absence or reduced performance levels.

Without confidence in the process, what is happening may never come to light. Similarly, employers should take steps to establish what is happening if something seems amiss rather than seeing the situation as something that employees need to sort out between themselves.

Whether you would like HR consultancy to assist with particular activities such as implementing measures to deal with conflict in the workplace, or you would like HR training on the topic such as how to identify the warning signs, what to do if an employee brings such information to your attention, or learn how to properly manage procedures such as grievances etc. we can assist.

2. Set expectations


It is important that employees know what their employer expects in terms of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. This may be clear from the culture of the workplace, but these expectations should be written down too. Perhaps it is made clear that certain conduct may result in dismissal, or maybe an employee handbook highlights the need to treat people with respect. For more information on employee handbooks read our blog What is an employee Handbook?

As well as pointing out positive and negative behaviours, setting expectations also relates to the process that will be followed in certain circumstances. An obvious example of such a process would be that if an employee has concerns relating to the workplace the grievance procedure is likely to apply. Such procedures are particularly important when the issue relates to an employee and their line manager, as the procedure should explain to the employee how the matter would be dealt with in such circumstances. We are experienced in drafting HR documentation which is tailored to the needs of our clients. We can often draft HR documentation at a fixed fee, or we can provide it as part of our HR support packages.

3. Follow a process not your instinct


There can sometimes be a temptation to avoid the time and effort associated with following a process and to bypass it all together by, for example, dismissing the issue, or deciding the matter was resolved now, without even establishing what happened let alone whether anyone was at fault.

This desire for a short cut would be a mistake. Procedures protect all concerned. They set out how the issue will be tackled, provide information regarding next steps and ensure that all involved are treated fairly and consistently. In addition, properly following the relevant procedure indicates that the organisation has acted appropriately.


4. Learn from situations where there has been conflict


Unfortunately, it is common for a workplace to experience conflict but for nothing to change in the future and for the same issues to arise again and again. This means that the cause of the problem never gets tackled. Why would that be? Perhaps, the conflict was not resolved because the employer has not followed one of the steps above, or because the organisation did not know where to start.


5. Recognise that how the organisation deals with conflict in the workplace may well have legal implications


It is all too easy for employers to take the view that conflict in the workplace is for the individuals concerned to sort out amongst themselves. As said at the outset, such a mindset could have disastrous consequences for the organisation. For example, an employee may allege that far from a typical office disagreement, discrimination has occurred, that there has been unwanted conduct of a sexual nature which violates the employee’s dignity, or the employee has been exposed to unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic such as disability, and that the unwanted conduct has the effect of violating the individual’s dignity. The last two examples would potentially be claims of harassment depending on the finding of the Employment Tribunal.

A key point to remember is that discrimination and harassment are examples of Employment Tribunal claims that do not require a particular length of service, unlike unfair dismissal claims where 2 years of continuous service are needed before such claims can be brought. In such circumstances it is particularly important that employers take steps to ensure that employees are treated fairly and that any issues are investigated properly and appropriate action is taken.

Plotkin & Chandler works exclusively in the areas of HR and employment law.

We offer a full range of services for employers, and we have expertise in how to deal with conflict at the workplace. Whether you would like  HR consultancy where we would undertake tasks on behalf of your organisation, or you would like HR training to better understand a particular topic, we can support you. In addition to our HR services, we also have expertise in defending an Employment Tribunal claim such as discrimination and harassment.

 We also support employees, so if you feel that you have been discriminated against, you would like to discuss bringing a harassment claim or you believe that you have been dismissed unfairly please get in touch.

   For a free consultation, to discuss your needs and the ways in which we can help, call us on 020 3923 8616 or email us at info@plotkinandchandler.com








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