Sometimes things can get fraught in the workplace. Many workplaces are a strange melting pot of people from different backgrounds, forced together in a bid to meet the aims and ambitions of a company, and their own ambitions. It’s perhaps to be expected that people thrown together in this way might well disagree about things, especially if under pressure.
A disagreement is fine, but if it festers and grows into a dispute then it can harm a business. In 2014-15 there were more than 60,000 industrial tribunals – these are the most serious conflicts played out, to great expense, in legal hearings. But cases don’t have to end up in a tribunal hearing to be a problem. A total of 45 million working days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety in the last three years – and many of these incidents can be caused or made worse through conflict in the workplace.
A business needs to be adept in managing and solving conflicts and to be able to avoid unnecessary stress if it is to remain calm and efficient. Here are some fundamentals to get right:
It’s good to talk, and that’s not just a clever marketing slogan either. If employees have clear and regular access to a line manager and feel confident enough to raise any issues they have, then the office will be much calmer. Often, people feel much better when they have got a matter off their chest.
Too many companies see their human resources function as being solely about paperwork and health and safety rules. With the use of HR software packages, companies can automate much of this leg work and concentrate on the pastoral side of things. This frees up important time to identify, mediate and resolve conflicts in a professional manner. It also means that you can spend time with people who do feel stressed and help to alleviate this. You should take stress seriously and not right it off as a sign of weakness.
Sometimes the atmosphere in the office can help to diffuse a situation. If yours is a generally fun office, with music and regular activities going on, then workers are likely to be happier. Likewise, a chill out area where people can go to take themselves out of a situation and calm down can be useful.
One way to ease stress is in the way you set and monitor work. If people forever feel they are racing towards meeting unrealistic targets then they will, naturally, feel stressed. Use smart project management strategies and software to break tasks down into smaller, more manageable goals. That should make for calmer working and if people are calmer they are less likely to run into disputes.
While any business will clearly need to spend time fixing and solving the problems it faces, it is important that this doesn’t become the sole focus. Celebrate successes of individuals and teams to foster a strong bond between colleagues. If employees feel valued and respected, they are less likely to feel stressed and more likely to talk through problems before they become a source of conflict.
You should also think closely about team building when you are recruiting. Pick personalities that will fit in well with your workplace culture and who sit well within the existing members of a team. It’s not a bar against conflict, but it’s more likely to help make a more harmonious team.