Workplace Conflict Higher than Previously Believed
OVER one-third of Irish employees face conflict - short of industrial action - in their workplaces on a regular basis, a new survey has claimed.
The high-level of workplace conflict and tensions emerged from an international survey of 5,000 employees in Ireland and eight other countries including Britain, Brazil, Germany, the US, France, The Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium.
Ireland, along with Germany, ranked highest, with an average of 3.3 hours per week spent by individuals coping with workplace conflict, compared to an international average of 2.1 hours. The study was undertaken in 2008, jointly by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and OPP Ltd, a business psychology firm.
The study is interesting in light of Ireland's excellent record on industrial disputes, which in recent years have been at an historically low level. Despite this official picture, the CIPD survey argues that Irish employees appear to face the negative effects of conflict on a regular basis: 37% of them say that they face it 'always' or 'frequently' at work. One in four (26%) has experienced conflict that led to bullying. The same proportion has seen people leaving the organisation after a disagreement, although, admittedly, this may not always be an undesirable outcome.
Of all those surveyed, Irish employees were most likely to observe conflict between line managers and those who directly report to them: 29% admitted as much, compared to 23% on average globally. These disagreements and rows take up an estimated 750,000 work days each year to address or resolve in the Irish economy, but the higher levels of training here may suggest that the higher incidence of conflict is more readily being faced up to than in some other countries.
The impact of workplace conflict on the Irish workforce is marked: one in five (18%) has missed a day's work as a result of conflict, against 12% on average, while one in six (16%) has even left a job, double the average of 8%. Furthermore, a quarter (26%) of Irish employees reported that clashes at work make them feel angry and frustrated, as opposed to 17% on average internationally.
There are encouraging signs, in that over half (51%) of Irish employees have had conflict management training, versus an average of 44% across the entire survey. Almost as many (46%, versus 30% on average) say that as they have matured, they take a more proactive approach than they did earlier in their careers.
Two-thirds of Irish-based workers (66%) think personality clashes are the major cause of conflict, the highest proportion of all those surveyed. Similarly, one in five employees (18%, against an average of 13%) see bullying and harassment as a primary factor. Conflicts between Irish employees can apparently take a very personal turn.
One positive outcome stands out, in that over a third (35%) have found better solutions to organisational dilemmas as a result of conflict at work, compared to 29% on average. Not all conflict is negative and sometimes it becomes more apparent as senior management shift from a traditional autocratic style, where everyone keeps their head down and mouth shut, to a more open, discursive approach.
As with workplace communications, managers often think that they handle conflict better than they actually do. The research found that overall, nearly one-third (31%) of managers felt that they handle disagreements well, while less than a quarter (22%) of non-managers agreed.
The divide is more pronounced in Ireland, with Irish managers tending to take a positive view of their own conflict handling capabilities: around half (46%) think they do an above-average job. This view is not shared by those around them; however, as only 20% of non-managers agree that conflict is handled well by those above them in the organisation.
The biggest 'war-zone' seems to be between entry-level grades and front-line managers and conflict is more prevalent among younger people than more experienced employees and managers. The main cause of conflict and tensions remains the familiar 'personality clash' and 'warring egos', where people just do not get along or "see eye-to-eye"