Workplace conflicts: How best to manage relationship breakdowns between your employees

by | Jun 22, 2021 | Blog

A recent study carried out by ACAS found that workplace conflict costs employers an astounding £28.5 billion a year!  The study also discovered that over half a million employees resign each year because of poorly managed disputes, meaning staff turnover is one of the largest expenses for many firms.

With the impacts of Covid-19 resulting in most businesses taking on remote working as their primary style of working, it is understandable that employers find it even more challenging to manage, or even detect, employee conflicts within their workforce.

Furthermore, poorly managed conflicts could result in employees affected taking sick leave, which is reported to cost UK businesses £2.2 billion a year. However, it is not only for financial reasons that employers should strive to deal with conflicts effectively.  Employee wellbeing, relationships within your teams and a happy workforce should be your main motivation to resolve any issues.

You should aim to handle problems as early as possible before they can escalate into more serious procedures such as formal grievances or disciplinaries, which can be very time consuming and costly for organisations – with the average grievance costing £951 of management time.

Employers should invest in appropriate training for Line Managers, so that they adequately understand how to tackle, and manage, any conflicts.

If an issue has arisen give us a call to see how we will help you resolve the matter.  We have also set out a few top tips for Line Managers to consider when dealing with conflict:

  1. Tackle any conflict head on! 

Of course, conflict can present itself in many ways.  It can start off from something so small as a minor disagreement between two employees or it could be unfair treatment such as unfair treatment like bullying, harassment, or exclusion. No matter how big or small, line managers should intervene from the moment they notice any kind of conflict taking place.

  1. Get to know your own team

This way you will know if any of your staff are behaving differently, appear to lose their confidence or become withdrawn. In this instance you should check up on your employees privately and ensure they know you are there for them if there is anything they wish to disclose to you in confidence. It is important to always listen to your employees and make sure you are approachable, many employees going through conflict at work could be in lots of distress and feel anxious to bring the matter to your attention.

  1. Be aware of simmering tensions

If you notice the same colleagues regularly bickering or snapping at one another, or even making sarcastic remarks that appear to come across as workplace ‘banter’ be sure to keep an eye on the situation or intervene to remind your entire team of workplace policies and the importance of having respect for one another. Sometimes ‘jokes’ are actually how employees may try to belittle their colleagues and can cause tensions which rise into much more serious conflict.

Although it can be daunting to intervene it is a crucial skill that leaders should be confident to carry out and therefore, they should proactively initiate discussions between colleagues if an issue appears to be brewing. The issue should be dealt with in a sensitive way and kept private between the individuals involved. Leaders should listen attentively to any concerns that are raised and try to identify what has caused the relationship breakdown in the first place. In addition, leaders should remain impartial and never take sides or make unfair judgements, doing so could result in action being taken against the Line Manager for acting out of best practice and potentially discriminating against an employee.

Leaders should be sure to speak to each team member individually at an appropriate place and always maintain confidentiality, after hearing both sides to the story they should then try to bring all parties involved together in an open and respectful environment where the problem can hopefully be resolved, and employees can acknowledge their colleagues’ views and concerns or raise anything else they wish to discuss in an appropriate way. It is throughout this meeting that the conflict should hopefully be resolved and left in the past, which should be the case if the conflict has been nipped in the bud early on and managed effectively.

On the other hand, however, it is also important to make a clear judgement as to when informal resolution is not going to resolve conflict and where formal processes will be necessary. In this instance leaders should refer to their HR departments for advice and support when needed.

Key takeaways:

  • Get to know your employees so that you can spot early signs of conflict or rising tensions within your team.
  • Have open and honest communication with your employees about what you expect of them and how you expect them to treat one another in the workplace.
  • Be alert to any signs of conflict, no matter how small or large it may seem. It is important to maintain respect in the workplace and therefore conflict should be taken seriously at all levels.
  • Use one-to-one meetings to have informal discussions with your staff about any concerns they may be having or any issues they would like to raise with you in confidence.
  • Monitor staff absenteeism, many employees who are going through conflict with a colleague may have increased time off sick. This should be considered during return-to-work interviews and discussed sensitively.
  • Resolve conflict early on and informally where possible by adopting a problem-solving approach and have the confidence to intervene where you know something is not right.
  • If necessary, escalate the conflict to formal procedures and inform HR of the situation so that you can be appropriately guided and supported.
  • Treat each person the same and ensure you always remain completely impartial.

Be sure to check out our other guidance on conflict resolution:

If you require any further guidance on managing conflict please get in touch with us today, we are always happy to help.