Managing workplace conflictWorker mental health has increasingly come under the spotlight in recent years, and as links between mental and physical health have become clearer it has become more acceptable to report non-physical impacts.

Many stressors in the workplace can be managed, and preferably nipped in the bud, by proactive employers. Workplace conflict can be a serious source of stress within any organisation, but can usually be managed or prevented if attention is given to the issue.

Whilst it is possible for a conflict situation to arise suddenly, it is usually a situation which develops over time due to a series of small, but compounding, incidents or disappointments suffered by a worker. Frequently, no single factor in the picture can be called a root cause, but together they trigger sufficient dissatisfaction in the worker to result in friction with one or more colleagues. The worker may then begin to disengage from the workplace, reactions can spiral out of control, and the potential exists for a compensable psychological injury.

To minimise the chances of this kind of outcome, managers and supervisors can consider strategies including:

  • Reporting strategies – develop mechanisms or opportunities for issues to be raised without further stressing the impacted staff member.
  • Conflict resolution strategies – ensure suitable strategies or policies are in place including the means to report concerns.
  • Pay attention – look for early warning signs of individuals having difficulty and make the opportunity to have a frank but supportive discussion with them. Resolving problems early is better for everyone.
  • Engage with all parties – if a conflict does arise, don’t watch the first blow up and then assume it’s all over, as these situations frequently fester and explode later if not dealt with. Rather, engage with all parties involved (separately) to develop a full understanding of the issues, then sensitively seek common ground in order to work towards a resolution.
  • Acknowledge concerns – many workers in situations of conflict find their distress compounded by a feeling of not being listened to. Allowing them to express their views and ensuring they know they’ve been heard can assist to diffuse the tension start moving towards a solution.
  • Facilitate a resolution – while avoiding making any overt judgement of “right and wrong” which can easily re-escalate conflict, focus on what is important to the individuals and practical strategies to achieve what they need to regain a level of comfort in the workplace, negotiating what action will be taken by whom. Take small steps and encourage fair compromises until a position is reached that everyone can live with.

Please contact QRMC for more information.