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Disputes and conflict in the workplace

Conflicts at work take many forms. It might be an individual with a grievance, a problem between an employee and a manager or conflict between two co-workers. Any conflict can get in the way of work and make your business less productive.

Dealing with conflict at an early stage to nip it in the bud and stop the situation developing into a full-blown dispute will save time, money and stress later on, for both the employer and employees.

Some of the issues that can cause conflict between individuals and groups at work include:

  • ineffective or insufficiently trained management
  • unfair treatment
  • unclear job roles
  • poor communications
  • poor work environment
  • lack of equal opportunities
  • bullying and harassment
  • unresolved problems from the past
  • an increase in workload.

Questions and answers

What can be done to minimise and resolve conflict in the workplace?

There are some key steps an employer can take to help ensure disputes and conflict don't arise too often, and to enable them to be dealt with when they do:

  • train managers to handle difficult conversations with employees
  • encourage open expression of opinions
  • recognise the importance of feelings
  • listen to what people have to say
  • focus on interests not positions and personalities
  • have clear discipline, grievance and dispute procedures for dealing with conflict
  • write mediation into your contracts of employment and/or individual disciplinary and grievance procedures
  • consider outside help where necessary, for example, using a third party by way of mediation, see Acas' advice on mediationand our mediation services.

How can I prepare for difficult conversations with employees?

Having one-to-one conversations about issues requires a great deal of sensitivity and empathy. You must try to:

  • listen to what individuals are saying and try to recognise any underlying causes of unhappiness or stress
  • ask questions in a calm and measured way to put the other person at ease and let them speak freely
  • rephrase or reinterpret what's been said so that problems can be seen in a different light
  • lead by example and set the right tone for people to.

Your first step should be to check if there has been a mistake or misunderstanding that has caused the problem unintentionally. It's always simpler to talk to people directly and informally about a problem. For instance, if you've been paid the wrong amount or not at all, you can check with HR or accounts to see whether all your details are recorded correctly or if there has been some mistake they can correct.

If you can't sort the matter out informally, you may wish to:

  • talk to your line manager or an HR staff member, or your union or staff representative
  • get advice from an outside source, like the Acas helpline
  • keep a record of relevant events: include dates and times, plus a description of what happened
  • keep copies of anything relevant, eg letters, memos, emails, notes of meetings
  • make a formal complaint (follow your employer's procedures - if you have a union representative or other
  • adviser, ask them to help you state your grievance clearly)
  • consider using a third party by way of mediation, see Acas' advice on mediation and our mediation services.

Acas' former Chief Conciliator Peter Harwood talks about the difference between mediation, conciliation and arbitration.

Will conflict be better managed informally in the workplace?

Acas Head of Strategy, Gill Dix, discusses this in the Workplace Trends 2015 report by Acas, the CIPD and HRzone.com

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Did you know?

Acas run practical training courses to equip managers, supervisors and HR professionals with the necessary skills to deal with employment relations issues and to create more productive workplace environments.

Click to view related Acas training and course dates in your area for:

Dispute resolution

Mediation

Improving supervisor skills

Acas Helpline

If you are facing any disputes within your organisation and need advice and guidance on how to resolve them, the Acas Helpline can explain the options available to you. Acas advises that organisations should address issues as early as possible before they escalate.

Call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100.

View further information about our Helpline service, including our Helpline Online FAQ tool on the Acas Helpline page.

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