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Acas warns businesses that line managers are struggling to manage conflict

Thursday 22 May 2014

Speaking at a Wales TUC fringe meeting today, Acas Chair Sir Brendan Barber launched a new Acas study that reveals a worrying lack of confidence amongst line managers in handling difficult issues involving their staff.

The study - a review of how individual conflict is managed in five organisations - finds that many line managers feel anxious and isolated when it comes to dealing with conflict at work.

Sir Brendan Barber, said:

"We would all like to see conflict resolved in the workplace rather than the court room. But even when they are bubbling beneath the surface, problems at work can be very demanding to manage effectively. Many line managers do not feel equipped for the challenge and we are in danger of expecting too much of them."

Acas believes that successful conflict management starts inside the workplace and is calling on organisations to:

  • share the responsibility of managing conflict by making it a strategic issue discussed at the highest level
  • provide more training for line managers not just in managing conflict but also in more generic 'handling difficult conversations'
  • recognise the factors that can help employers to prevent problems escalating into full blown disputes - such as effective channels of representation, particularly those provided by unions.

Brendan Barber added:

"Conflict management deserves its place at the top table but, as our study shows, it's also time to recognise that dealing with conflict often relies on informal networks of interaction between people. Many of these networks - that formerly relied upon everyday contact with HR managers and employee representatives - are being eroded. I think it's time we took a more innovative approach to conflict management. And we can start by having a bigger conversation about the part conflict plays at work, whether it's visible or not."

Notes to editors

  1. The Acas Research Paper pdf icon Workplace dispute resolution and the management of individual conflict – a thematic analysis of five case studies [433kb], by Saundry and Wibberley, is available on the Acas Research papers page. Acas has also published an ER Comment article, pdf icon Plugging the confidence gap? Changing perceptions of conflict at work [79kb], available at Employment Relations Comment
  2. Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. We aim to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. We help with employment relations by supplying up-to-date information, independent advice and high quality training, and working with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law. For more information, see About us.
  3. The Acas helpline - 0300 123 1100 - is available from 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. Advice is free and confidential so callers do not have to give their names. Research commissioned by Acas and available at Acas Helpline, found over nine out of ten employers (96 per cent) who call the Acas helpline would recommend it to a colleague.
  4. For media enquiries please contact Lou Owen on 020 7210 3920 or For out of hours media enquiries please call the out of hours duty press officer on 020 7210 3600.