Managing conflict in the workplace
Added pressure due to the pandemic may lead to increased feelings of stress, fear or anxiety—which is likely to heighten the potential for conflict within a business. A conflict management process will assist in navigating disagreements that may arise.
Start by developing a policy
A comprehensive conflict management policy can act as a roadmap for both managers and employees to understand the processes they are expected to follow when conflict arises.
The majority of awards/agreements, including the Health Professionals and Support Services Award, contain dispute resolution provisions that can be a great starting point to develop such policies.
Additionally, as with all internal policies and procedures, consultation with employees is an invaluable source for developing meaningful procedures. It is important to speak to your employees when creating this policy, as they will be able to provide insight into their perceptions of roadblocks to them voicing issues they may encounter.
Involving employees in the development of a conflict management policy will also ensure greater acceptance, and cooperation, once the policy comes into effect.
How do you approach an instance of workplace conflict?
Firstly, it is important to identify and understand the issue as quickly and as in-depth as possible.
The most commonly reported causes of conflict include (but are not limited to):
- a lack of information or misunderstanding
- conflicting interests or values
- discrimination or harassment
- a lack of resources
- personality clashes
- internal organisational problems.
When an employee approaches you to discuss an issue it is important to:
- display a calm and welcoming attitude
- gather as much information relating to the issue as possible (this includes asking questions and requesting evidence if/ when necessary)
- clarify the employee’s desired outcome
- reassure the employee that you take their concerns seriously
- (Ideally) give a time frame of when the employee can expect a response.
Depending on the nature of the issue, and the policy that has been developed, you may request that the employee put their concerns in writing. When the issue is of a more serious nature, it may be particularly appropriate to request written notice to help you investigate.
If the issue involves someone else in the workplace, it is critical they are given the chance to respond and present their point of view before any action is taken.
This will demonstrate that a manager/employer has afforded all parties procedural fairness and will minimise risk if the issue is later referred to an external party.
In the same vein, to avoid future misgivings with the original complainant, it is important you explain that you plan to raise the issue with the employee against whom they have made a complaint and secure their permission to do so.
Once you have spoken with both parties, you should check any policies and legislation that may be relevant. This will ensure any decisions you make are not in breach of policy, the award/agreement that applies to the employee, their employment contract or any other relevant legislation.
After having gathered information from the parties to the conflict or dispute, it may be appropriate to conduct a mediation session—this will allow both parties to air their grievances and devise a solution, with their manager’s/employer’s help, to overcome the conflict and return to an amicable, collaborative workplace.
Providing additional training, updating relevant policies and procedures and setting a date in the future to check in with any affected parties are all examples of steps managers and employees should take while resolving workplace conflicts, with the aim to minimise future reoccurrence.
What are the options should we be unable to resolve the workplace conflict?
While it is always encouraged that employers and employees resolve conflict in the workplace as far as practicable, there are situations where outside help may be required.
The appropriate approach will vary depending on the nature of your situation. The HR in Practice service can provide advice on the appropriate avenue to follow depending on your individual circumstances.
Strong conflict management policies are paramount for businesses in all circumstances, but are particularly important during the pandemic, where fear and uncertainty can increase the possibility of conflicts arising.
>> The HR in Practice workplace advisory service is operated by Wentworth Advantage for APA Business Group members.
If you have any questions about managing conflict in the workplace, contact the APA HR in Practice service at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The material contained in this publication is general comment and is not intended as advice on any particular matter, nor should it be relied on as a substitute for legal or professional advice. Wentworth Advantage Pty Ltd expressly disclaim all and any liability to any persons whatsoever in respect of anything done or omitted to be done by any such person in reliance whether in whole or in part upon any of the contents of this publication.
© Copyright 2018 by Australian Physiotherapy Association. All rights reserved.