New research from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, highlights that one in three UK employees have experienced some form of interpersonal conflict at work in the last year.
This includes one in four (29%) who have had isolated disputes or clashes and a further one in four (28%) who report ongoing difficult relationships. The CIPD is warning that mangers have a key role to play in diffusing tensions early on as workplace conflict can have a major impact on employee wellbeing and business outcomes, with as many as one in ten employees leaving their organisation as a result.
The report, Getting Under the Skin of Workplace Conflict, found that conflict manifests itself in a number of ways at work, the most frequently cited one being lack of respect, according to 61% of respondents. Alarmingly, one in every 25 respondents who had experienced conflict at work in the last year, said that they had experienced the threat of or actual physical assault at work. The CIPD is urging employers to build a business culture that supports positive working relationships and channels which mean that any workplace conflicts can be dealt with early on before it escalates and becomes unmanageable.
When conflict does arise at work, it's most often perceived as being with line managers or other superiors (36%) rather than with direct reports (10%), highlighting the important influence of the power balance in how conflict is experienced. In other words, the junior person in the relationship is more likely to identify the issue as a problem, while the senior person either didn't identify it as a problem in the first place or sees it as having been resolved. The most common cause of conflict is a clash of personality or working style (44%) rather than a conflict of interest as such. Individual performance competence and target setting are also among the issues most likely to spark conflict, with promotions or contractual terms of employment being less influential.
The report found that there is a clear power differential at play with employees being most likely to perceive a lack of respect, bullying or harassment from their boss or other superiors and as many as 1 in 4 said that their line manager actively creates conflict.