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Sir Brendan Barber: Resolving workplace conflict

Monday 21 September 2015

Today is International Day of Peace. The theme of this year's commemoration is "Partnerships for Peace - Dignity for All" and it aims to highlight the importance of all segments of society working together to strive for peace.

Sir Brendan Barber

Sir Brendan Barber is Acas' Chair, joining in January 2014. Previously Sir Brendan was the TUC General Secretary (2003 to 2012) and sat on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service Council (1995 to 2004). Sir Brendan was knighted in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to employment relations.

Acas Chair Brendan Barber blog

The United Nations is right to point out the positive and essential role that the thousands of partnerships - between governments, civil society, the private sector and many other non-governmental organizations - can play in promoting peace.

Peace or harmony, like conflict, are, at some level, everyone's responsibility. I would contend that the seeds of good behaviour - treating each other with respect and dignity - are sown into our everyday lives, in the way we interact with each other at home and, of course, at work.

I would not want to imply for one moment that incidences of bullying or disputes over rates of pay are in any way comparable to what is happening to people all over the world in war zones. But the way we treat each other at work can give us cause for reflection.

The definition of workplace conflict that Acas uses is "discontent arising from a perceived clash of interests". If these clashes are left to fester and grow then behaviours can become ingrained, and dignity is often one of the first casualties. Workplace conflict can be very real, stressful and painful to those involved. It can lead to mental health challenges, and long term absence, which has a knock on effect on wider business cohesion and ultimately the productivity of an organisation.

Acas has recently commissioned some research on how individual conflict is managed at work. The report by Professor Richard Saundry, due to be published later this year, provides evidence of the corrosive impact of conflict. A number of the people interviewed during the course of the research commented on how managing conflict has been further complicated by the growing incidences of mental health issues and a lack of understanding by line managers of how to respond to such situations.

Our research also shows a growing mythology about employees at either end of the age spectrum: (misplaced) perceptions of older workers not being able to cope with increasing demands of their jobs; or young people lacking commitment to work. All of which places additional stresses on these employees, their line managers and the wider business.

Effective and harmonious workplaces are those where management and employees display the right behaviour and attitudes, built on dignity and respect for all. Where employees are consulted in and signed up to conflict policies, and who feel valued and treated fairly.

Further reading

  • Effective conflict management is one of Acas' seven levers of productivity.
  • The Acas Age Audit tool can help your organisation to assess attitudes towards age issues, your organisations' approaches and policies.
  • Acas advice on handling mental health in the workplace can help your line managers to tackle the stigma around mental health, focus on the practical things you can do to help, and develop solutions by listening.

Read other blogs in our productivity series

1 Comment

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  • Posted by Adeola  |  23 September 2015, 10:46AM

    Organisations need effective mechanism that would nip any potential conflict in the bud before it develops into something larger.

    If not, it will negatively affect the overall productivity in any organisation in the long term.