A recent ACAS report estimates that conflict in the workplace costs UK employers £28.5bn* each year, representing an average of £1,000 for every UK employee, a cost employers could reasonably avoid by implementing more effective management and workplace processes.
The impact of workplace conflict
The ACAS analysis, taken from before the COVID-19 pandemic markedly changed working lives, estimates that 9.7m employees experienced conflict in 2018/19, but suggests that conflict may become more prevalent as employers begin to re-enter a more ‘normal’ working landscape, where problems initially supressed due to the COVID-19 crisis may resurface.
Of the employees polled, the majority who experience conflict stayed at the workplace, with only 5% resigning. 9% took time off as a sickness absence, whilst over 40% reported being less productive at work as a result. Significantly, 56% reported that the conflict led to stress anxiety or depression.
Costs in the early stages of conflict are relatively low, but these start to mount if employees continue to work whilst ill, or take time off through sickness absence. The use of formal processes such as disciplinary dismissals increases costs further, but costs then escalate when employees resign, with resignations costing employers a total of £11.9bn per year.
Early intervention in workplace conflict is key
To avoid these costly expenses, early intervention is key, with the report suggesting that the critical time to intervene is before conflict reaches formal workplace procedures.
The report places emphasis not only on conflict management, but also the necessity to repair employment relationships and focus on helping employees to improve poor performance rather than employers being too eager to dismiss. In order to build and repair effective employment relationships, employers need to ensure managers are appropriately trained to manage issues such as poor performance and capability.
Appropriate management training
In the light of the report, Vivienne Tolley, HR Services Director at Smith Cooper comments:
“These figures are sobering, and act as a stark reminder to employers of the importance of appropriate management and workplace processes. The report highlights just how widespread workplace conflict is, and the most striking figure is that 56% of the employees polled reported stress, anxiety or depression. It’s clear that the impact of conflict on employee wellbeing is significant, and is something that needs addressing”.
“The report suggests that early intervention in conflict is vital in order to repair relationships and retain employees. Appropriate training and procedures need to be put in place to ensure managers are equipped to build strong relationships with their employees where any issues relating to capability or performance can be addressed appropriately, and help minimise the potential for conflict”.
(*This estimate is based on the total cost to employers in handling workplace conflict, including informal, formal and legal processes as well as the cost of sickness absences and resignations.)