People who work together often have different values and opinions. They may not share the same vision or interests, which can create tension in the workplace. Over time, this tension can lead to conflicts and disagreements. Managers and team leaders are responsible for identifying the source of conflict in an organization so they can take the steps needed to maintain team harmony.
Sources of Conflict in an Organization
Conflicts in the workplace can create a toxic environment and affect employee morale. These situations are often due to misunderstandings, lack of communication, perceived threats, cultural differences and more. The parties involved may not know how to manage conflict in a positive way, which only makes things worse.
Sources of conflict in collaborative groups include personality clashes, poor communication, office romance, unhealthy workplace competition and other factors. Simple things such as gossip and rumors may result in conflicts. Sometimes, employees can argue over their responsibilities or their access to the company's resources. Workplace conflict may occur between team members, departments or different ranks.
Poor management, for example, may lead to conflicts within a team as well as between employees and their employers or supervisors. Disputes can also arise when the parties involved have unrealistic needs and expectations. Heavy workload, unfair treatment, bullying, harassment and unpredictable policies are all possible causes of organizational conflict.
Stress and Burnout
Workplace stress is often the source of conflict in an organization. When employees become stressed and have a hard time maintaining work-life balance, they are more likely to engage in conflicts. They may blame their colleagues for the smallest mistakes, start disputes or say things that affect their peers.
According to the American Institute of Stress, 40 percent of employees believe that their job is very or extremely stressful. Approximately 14 percent have felt like striking a colleague in the past year, and 25 percent have felt like screaming or shouting because of stress. About 10 percent report working in an environment where job stress has caused physical violence. Nearly one-third of workers have yelled at co-workers in response to stress.
These statistics confirm the relationship between workplace stress and conflict. As a manager, it's your job to create a positive work environment and focus on improving team morale. Employees who are stressed may lose their temper, make poor decisions and create hostility in the workplace. Their productivity will suffer too.
Office Gossip and Rumors
According to Udemy's 2018 Workplace Distraction Report, more than half of meetings get disrupted because of small talk and office gossip. Virtually all employees find themselves making or hearing comments about their co-workers. For some, it's a guilty pleasure. For others, it's a source of conflict.
Office gossip can easily cross the line from subtle comments to hurtful remarks. This may lead to disputes, diminished work productivity, anxiety, stress and distrust. Some employees relish in creating drama and find pleasure in hurting others, which can affect the organization as a whole.
What you can do as a manager is to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on office gossip. If one of your staff members is spreading rumors, don't ignore him. Have a one-on-one meeting with him and discuss the consequences of his behavior. Be aware that workplace gossip isn't just a source of conflict in the organization. It may also lead to lawsuits and affect your company's image.
The Impact of External Factors
Certain external factors, such as public ideologies, changing markets and new regulations for special interest groups, can fuel conflicts in the workplace. In this case, the best thing you can do is to discuss these aspects with your employees and encourage healthy debate. Address their concerns and encourage them to express their opinions.
Maintain open communication in your organization. Ensure fair treatment for your staff and apply workplace policies consistently. For example, if you need to make layoffs during a recession, explain the reasons behind your actions and don't force the remaining employees to take on heavier workloads to make up for the reductions in personnel.
- The American Institute of Stress: Workplace Stress
- The Institute of Leadership & Management: Managing Stress and Conflict at Work
- nibusinessinfo.co.uk: Managing Conflict
- Udemy: 2018 Workplace Distraction Report
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of Perceived Negative Workplace Gossip on Employees’ Behaviors
Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.