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Workplace Conflict Survey (UK) Report 2010

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8 weeks ago; People Resolutions launched its first Workplace Conflict Survey for 2010. We wanted to explore the extent to which organisations currently experience conflict, the impact it has on workplace performance, and how organisations attempt to control the issue through HR and managerial techniques.

During the survey period, 122 in-depth opinions were taken from 122 HR professionals across the UK. The findings were then analysed in order to not only identify the key issues affecting conflict for 2011, but the ways in which they can be addressed.

The findings have now been published in this insightful and interested report - a must-read for all HR professionals.

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Workplace Conflict Survey (UK) Report 2010

  1. 1. Specialists in Managing Workplace Conflict Workplace Conflict Survey (UK) 2010 By Helen Ross Lead Researcher People Resolutions Limited Copyright © 2010 People Resolutions Limited
  2. 2. Conflictcanoccurinmany workplacesituationsand ismanifestedthrougha varietyofbehaviours. Foreword People Resolutions, in conjunction with Human Potential Accounting, has conducted a UK survey investigating the current effect and management of workplaceconflict. WithpoorlymanagedworkplaceconflictcostingUK businesses£24billioneveryyear(OPPandCIPD),we wantedtoexploretheextenttowhichorganisations currently experience conflict, the impact it has on workplace performance, and how organisations attempt to control the issue through HR and managerialtechniques. Conflict can occur in many workplace situations and is manifested through a variety of behaviours. However, by investigating and understanding these behaviours, we can begin to address the overall problemofworkplaceconflictintheUK. It is also important to note that not all conflict is bad conflict. Thoughconflictisgenerallybelievedtobea negativeanddestructivebehavioursomedifferences of approach or opinion can form the necessary stimulusfororganisationalchangeandbetterproject management. However the fact still remains that ‘Unmanaged conflict is the largest reducible cost in organisations today,andtheleastrecognised’(DanDana). In addition, the courts now have the power to increase or decrease awards by up to 25 per cent – to employers, employees or both – if they have not reasonablyconsideredconstructiveresolutionofone formoranother. With the need for effective conflict management becoming paramount, everyone in the workplace now needs to play a part in planning for and preventing conflict or resolving it promptly and reasonably. Helen Ross, BSc, MSc Lead Researcher People Resolutions Limited
  3. 3. www.peopleresolutions.com Executive Summary Key Findings Thesurveyanalysiswasbasedon122responses from HR personnel. Lost Time • 25.8% of HR personnel spend over 10% of their time per week dealing with conflict. • This translates to somewhere between 3.5 and 4 hours lost per HR employee per week, meaning a loss of 23.5 days a year. Grievances and Tribunals • The average number of grievances reported per year is 11, with 2 going to tribunal. • Public sector organisations report the most grievances compared with private and charity/not-for-profit organisations. • IT/Telecoms and Construction sectors report the lowest number of grievances. Local and central government report the highest. • 40% of all grievances are said to be related to relationship issues. Conflict and Performance • Just over a quarter (28%) of HR personnel believe that the time and energy taken in managing conflict negatively affects their own productivity. • 64% consider that conflict negatively impacted upon workforce performance. Conflict and Culture • Over half (53%) of the sample report that their organisation is reactive rather than proactive in relation to conflict management. • Organisations that rated themselves as reactive are more likely to experience reduced employee engagement and have managers who do not see conflict management as their responsibility. • Organisations that did recognise conflict as a serious issue have employees who are aware of the grievance policy and procedures, and managers who have the skills to effectively deal with conflict. Managerial Accountability • 55.7% of the sample report that managers do not see conflict as their responsibility and quickly pass it on to HR. • Over a third (38.5%) say that managers do not have the necessary skills to deal with conflict. • Where survey respondents reported that their managers do have the necessary skills, they are also more likely to report a lower number of tribunals. HR Capability • A higher proportion of HR personnel from the public sector feel that they do not have the necessary skills to deal with conflict in comparison to those from other sectors. • 29.5% of the sample regularly use EDR (Early Dispute Resolution) techniques. • Those who do are more likely to have managers who are quick to confront and resolve conflict. • Only 11.7% of organisations offer conflict resolution skills training to managers.
  4. 4. TheResearch Theanalysiswascarriedouton122surveyresponses from HR personnel.The survey was composed of 23 questions covering conflict prevalence, the impact on performance and organisational, managerial and HR conflict management. As indicated, 64.4% of the sampleisfromtheprivatesector(Figure1). Figure 1: Proportion of respondents by sector A large proportion of our sample are either HR managers or directors (Figure 2). This is notable because these individuals are best placed to give accurate responses to surveys such as this. Figure 2: Proportion of respondents by job title There is a reasonably even split between the industries sampled, however the largest proportion is in professional services (Figure 3). Figure 3: Proportion of respondents by industry type The Cost of Conflict Lost Time Potentially the most damaging and destructive consequences of workplace conflict are the levels of resource and time needed to address the issue. Just under half (47%) of HR respondents report that they spent between 1% and 10% of their working hours per week dealing with conflict, while a further 25.8% stated they spent 11-20%. Trends in the data suggest that HR respondents from public sector organisations are likely to spend longer dealing with conflict than those from other sectors. Time redirected away from productivity to deal with conflict leads to obvious questions about cost and organisational performance. As indicated by the OPP study ‘Fight, Flight or Face it’(2008), on average employees spend 2.1 hoursperweekengagedinconflict.Ourfindings are that over a quarter of HR personnel spend more than 10% of their working week dealing with the problem. This translates to somewhere between 3.5 - 4 hours lost per HR employee per week. Over a year this equates to 23.5 days lost. Grievances and Tribunals The average number of grievances per year is 11 with an average of 2 going to tribunal. However, there is a significant difference found in the number of grievances reported by sector. Public sector organisations report an average
  5. 5. www.peopleresolutions.com of 43 grievances per year while private and charity/not-for-profit organisations report a significantly lower average of 5 grievances per year (Figure 4). This offers a clear explanation as to why individuals in the public sector tend to report spending more time dealing with conflict. Figure 4: Mean number of grievances over 12 months In terms of industry differences, IT/Telecoms and Construction are found to have the lowest number of grievances per year and local and central government report the highest number, with a comparatively high average of 83 grievances per year. 40% of all grievances are said to be related to relationship issues with a further 25% due to ‘management of performance’ issues. This pattern is consistent across all sectors. The fact that relationship issues are stated as the most common causes of grievance highlights the difficulties of moderating human behaviour in the workplace. Other potential causes of conflict such as pay, benefits and working conditions are predominantly under the control of the employer and can be directly addressed. It would seem that managing the intangible nature of working relationships is something with which organisations continue to struggle. The analysis finds that private sector organisations report an average of one tribunal per year. Public and charity/not-for-profit sector organisations report an average of 5 tribunals a year. Interestingly this is the same as the number of grievances these sectors reported, suggesting that a high proportion of these continue to tribunal. With an average compensation payout of £19,355 (according to Ministry of Justice Employment Tribunal 2010 statistics), these organisations could potentially be losing up to £96,779 per year. Conflict and Performance The survey respondents were asked several questions about conflict and organisational performance. 38.8% of the sample do not think that the level of conflict they dealt with negatively affected their productivity. However, 28% believe that conflict management does haveanegativeeffectontheirownproductivity. This pattern is consistent across all sectors and industries. As expected, it was found that those who consider their performance as negatively affected by conflict are more likely to spend more time dealing with the issue. 64% of HR respondents report that conflict in their organisation negatively impacted upon employee performance. This finding is consistent across all sectors.Where respondents reported that conflict affects employee productivity, they also say that managers do not have the necessary skills to deal with the problem and that managers do not see it as their responsibility. Employee engagement is now commonly regarded as a driver of performance and organisational success. 31.5% of respondents report that conflict in their organisation has lessened employee engagement. While the majority of those in the private sector considered that this was the case, the majority of respondents from the public sector disagree.
  6. 6. Figure 6: Proportion of respondents by reactive/ proactive response As highlighted above, organisations reported as reactive are more likely to experience reduced employee engagement. They are also more likely to have managers who do not see conflict management as their responsibility. In contrast to these findings, 68.8% of the sample say that their organisation considers conflict as a serious issue. The results indicate that organisations that recognise conflict as a serious issue are more likely to have: • managers who are quick to confront and resolve conflict • employees who are aware of the grievance policy and procedures • managers who have the skills to effectively deal with conflict This is possibly due to the fact that these organisations report that they are more likely to provide training to their managers in the use of the grievance policy and procedures, conflict resolution skills, EDR techniques and mediation skills – all proactive developmental activities that can lead to effective outcomes. Organisations that consider conflict as a serious issue are also more likely to actively report on the annual cost of conflict; perhaps this has helped to make the business case for the awareness and training activities mentioned. The findings reinforce the generally held view that organisational culture as translated into This is surprising since the public sector experiences higher levels of conflict. Perhaps the private sector organisations appreciate the potentially damaging effect of workplace conflict on engagement and are therefore more willing to invest in this issue. The survey also shows that organisations that describe themselves as reactive rather than proactive are also more likely to experience reduced employee engagement as a result (Figure 5). Figure 5: Correlation between reactivity and reduced employee engagement Where HR respondents believe conflict has reduced engagement, they also believe it has reduced employee productivity. It is hard to establish whether conflict that reduces engagement causes performance reduction or vice versa; however, organisations might want to consider the potential relationships between these variables. Conflict and Culture Workplace conflict can often be referred to as an issue originating from organisational culture. To address this, HR respondents were asked about their organisation’s attitude towards the issue. 53% of the sample feel that their organisation is reactive rather than proactive in relation to conflict management (Figure 6).
  7. 7. www.peopleresolutions.com working practices is an important determinant of workplace behaviour. Conflict and Managerial Accountability Managers are essential for early conflict resolution; they are in the best position to spot theearlysignsandtackletheissuebeforeitgains momentum. However, conflict management can be something of an art, and for some managers without the necessary skills it can be a challenge.The challenge is sometimes greater for technically-oriented rather than relationally-oriented managers. 55.7% of the sample say that managers in their organisation do not see conflict as their responsibility and quickly pass it on to HR. A further 38.5% say that managers do not have the necessary skills to deal with conflict. Respondents from private and charity/ not-for-profit organisations tend to rate managers’ skill levels and ability to take responsibility higher than those from public sector organisations. This is in keeping with the finding that public sector organisations tended to experience more grievances. Results from the survey indicate that managers who do have the necessary skills to deal with conflict are also reported as being quick to confront and resolve conflict (Figure 7). In addition, the employees of these managers are more aware of the grievance policy and procedures. Perhaps this is because, as noted above, these managers tend to work in organisations that consider conflict as a serious issue. Within this more proactive culture, managers appear more likely to benefit from training in conflict resolution skills and the grievance policy and procedures.
  8. 8. Figure 7: Correlation between conflict management skills and quick reactions to conflict An encouraging negative correlation is found between the extent to which managers have the skills to resolve conflict and the number of tribunals experienced in the previous 12 months. Where survey respondents report that their managers do have the necessary skills, they are also likely to report a lower number of tribunals. Conflict and HR Capability HR is often seen as the conflict management HQ. It is responsible for presenting effective strategies, techniques and guidelines which can beconsideredandusedatalllevelsandfunctions of the organisation. We asked our respondents a number of questions investigating the current skill levels and the techniques promoted. The findings indicate that 74.7% of the HR respondents believe they have the skills to effectively deal with conflict (Figure 8). Figure 8: Proportion of respondents by conflict skills response 24.9% of HR personnel from the public sector said that they do not have the necessary skills to deal with conflict. However, only 5.8% and 10% of HR personnel from the private and charity/ not-for-profit sectors reported the same. When HR respondents said they have the necessary skills to deal with conflict, employees are reported by HR respondents as more confident at approaching HR and are more aware of the grievance policy and procedures. In addition, when training is provided to managers on the use of the grievance procedures, employee awareness of this process is said by HR to increase. Experts in the field agree that catching conflict in the early stages is essential to reducing costs and counterproductive work environments. However, the research demonstrates that HR respondents would like to be more proactive. Only 29.5% of the sample regularly use EDR techniques. Supporting the view that EDR is effective, we found that those HR personnel who utilise these techniques are more likely to have managers who are quick to confront and resolve conflict. Those HR personnel reporting mediation skills training for all or selected managers say they are more likely to have managers with the necessary skills to deal with conflict.
  9. 9. Equipping managers with the necessary skills to spot and defuse tension before it progresses is generally accepted as an effective tool in managing conflict. The survey demonstrated that HR respondents would like to be more proactive, or are disappointed in the approach taken within their organisations. Only 11.7% of HR respondents offer conflict resolution skills training to managers. Those HR personnel that do offer conflict resolution skills training to managers are more likely to report that their managers are quick to confront and resolve conflict. What is consistent across organisational, managerial and HR conflict management is that groups which offer training in the use of the grievance policy and procedures, conflict resolution skills, EDR techniques and mediation skills also actively report on the amount and cost of conflict each year. By doing this, HR is able to build a robust business case requesting the necessary budget to implement the above techniques. They will also be able to evaluate the effectiveness of their conflict strategy year on year by assessing the return on investment. AboutUs Foroveradecade,PeopleResolutionshashelped organisations plan for, prevent and resolve workplaceconflict. Spotting the early warning signs through audits and assessments. Ensuring policies and procedures are in line with changing legislation. Consultingonstrategyandnextsteps.Preventing conflictthroughtrainingHRandlinemanagers. Whenconflictarises,drawingfromournationwide network of over 300 consultants to quickly and effectively resolve issues through mediation and investigations. www.PeopleResolutions.com OurResearchPartner HumanPotentialAccounting Founded by internationally renowned academic and business leader Dr Michael Reddy, Human Potential Accounting (HPA) is a Human Capital consulting firm offering diagnostic assessment tools, Human Capital Management (HCM) businessintelligenceandconsulting. HPA Assessments help the organisation choose its best human capital management options, in line with bottom line potential, and the known financialrisksandcostsofemployingpeople. HPA Researchers burrow into a bank of existing relevant data and research, locating and combining the best into concise and actionable BusinessIntelligencereports. HPA Consulting helps the FD, shareholders and businessanalystspinpointwheretherealvalueof people is being created and where the risks and costsofemploymentareincurred,allowingthem to see an accurate picture of the impact of their investmentreflectedinfinancialreports. www.hpa-group.com
  10. 10. 5 T | 01908 524 110 E | investigations@peopleresolutions.com W | www.peopleresolutions.com 1 Oakhill Close, Milton Keynes, Bucks MK5 6JP. People Resolutions Limited T | 0800 6125 110 E | information@peopleresolutions.com www.PeopleResolutions.com

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