The Cost of Conflict

It makes sense to address conflict in your organisation, whether it is a business, a club, a committee or a community group. Conflict that is not addressed and that is allowed to continue and fester affects the morale, the productivity, the profits, the outcome, and the health and well-being of those involved.

Some of these costs are immediately apparent. Someone may leave the organisation due to stress. If they don’t leave then others may in order to avoid the stress of being in a conflict situation. There is the immediate effect of the loss of someone who may be valuable to the organisation; the cost of replacing them in terms of recruitment; the loss of productivity; the disruption to work practices.

Bringing someone new into an organisation or team is a cost that is hard to measure. New relationships have to be built and a new dynamic established. It is difficult to measure how this affects an organisation.

If the conflict was not addressed an resolved, it leaves a legacy that can become part of the organisational culture. It becomes the acceptable way to behave and a culture of tension and aggression results. This makes for a place that is not comfortable to work or be part of. It can put people off joining and can drive clients and customers away.

Some of the ways in which unresolved conflict can manifest itself are:

  • Illness caused by stress, frustration, and anxiety is perhaps the greatest indicator of conflict in an organisation going unaddressed.
  • Loss of sleep due to worry leads to employees coming to work tired and thus being less productive
  • Strained relationships mean that people avoid each other and don’t co-operate leading to lower productivity
  • Grievances and litigation cost time and money!
  • Presenteeism is where an employee turns up for work but doesn’t really fulfil their function. They are there but not working
  • Employee turnover due to people leaving and having to be replaced
  • Loss of productivity due to low morale, people taking sick leave and avoidance

Most people adopt a conflict avoidance strategy where conflict is suppressed and not addressed – in effect, they are in conflict with conflict itself! Another is to impose a resolution from above. Someone in authority steps in between the conflicting parties and imposes a solution. If you have ever tried to hold a balloon under water you will understand how difficult it is to suppress something that wants to emerge. One way or another it will rise to the surface and the more deeply it is suppressed the more forcefully it erupts in the end.

Conflict is going to be a part of any organisation or workplace. It can be allowed to do further damage or it can be turned to advantage. Having a comprehensive conflict management system in place is the first step. This should work from the bottom up with those most directly involved in the conflict working together to find a resolution that meets their interests. This can be done  through direct dialogue between the parties or can involve an impartial mediator to help facilitate a resolution. Mediation has been shown to be a more productive and cost effective way of resolving conflict than imposition of a solution by judgment or arbitration. It is a voluntary process that focuses on the  interests of the parties involved and seeks to reach an agreement that addresses those interests. It is in the interests of any organisation to have mediation as part of their dispute resolution or grievance procedures

Tim Spalding

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