HR not best placed to manage conflict, say UK workers

The majority of UK employees do not believe that HR departments are best placed to manage conflict in the workplace, according to new research.

In a Global Market Insite poll of 1,000 UK workers, commissioned by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), just 16% said that HR was best suited for conflict management.

The Tough Talk report revealed that twice as many respondents (14%) enlisted the help of a neutral third party when conflict first arose, compared to those who approached their HR department (7%).

A combined 87% of respondents felt that levels of conflict at work had increased or at best stayed the same over the past 12 to 18 months, while only 8% believed that levels of conflict had decreased.

Nearly two-thirds (60%) of respondents cited a tendency to ignore conflict and a lack of problem-solving ability (57%) as organisational weaknesses, the likely outcomes being unresolved conflict or dissatisfaction in how conflict is managed.

The survey also revealed that money had not been the primary reason for conflict in working life over the past year, despite widespread fears about redundancy and job losses. People were twice as likely to cite workload (32%) than money (16%) as the primary trigger for difficult conversations.

The overwhelming majority (88%) of respondents agreed that the cost of conflict is damaging to the UK economy. The study showed that more people (59%) cited internal factors – including management (32%) and co-workers (27%) – as the top sources of “challenging conversations”, compared to external factors, including customers, suppliers or business partners.

Dr Karl Mackie, chief executive of CEDR, said: “All eyes are trained on the private sector as a beacon of hope for job creation, but the survey suggests levels of internal conflict that stand in the way of real business transformation.

“Conflict, when managed effectively, can support morale and curb stress, helping create an environment that’s more conducive to achieving mission-critical goals.”

Employers should give greater priority to effective conflict management as a core value that is championed across the organisation, from the boardroom to the shop floor, according to Mackie.

“Those in leadership positions have a duty to skill up in this area and encourage more structured conversations which can reveal more than one path to conflict resolution,” he said.

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