Multiple People Standing Around a Desk and Pointing at the Person Working There

Valerie Dansereau has more than twenty years of experience in corporate America, so the world of business is very familiar turf. She has written for many different types of business from healthcare to addiction recovery to banking to B2B. For Peaceful Leaders Academy, she focuses on conflict management, de-escalation, and leadership development.

For many of us, workplace conflict is something we try to avoid as much as possible. However, it’s also one of those things that seems unavoidable as it can occur at any time for any number of reasons.

Unfortunately, although this conflict is relatively common, there are no standards for how to manage it. So, some businesses address workplace conflict well while others struggle to minimize the damage.

Making matters worse is the fact that these conflicts have a quantifiable cost attached to them. Although the price varies from one company to the next, it’s clear that the problem is not something that a business can ignore, no matter the size.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at workplace conflict statistics and show what leaders can do to minimize the costs and create a more stable work environment for everyone.

Workplace Conflict: Stats and Numbers

It’s hard to quantify conflict in a business because it can manifest in so many different ways. Also, some industries are more prone to conflict than others, so looking at averages can tend to skew the way we look at them.

Nonetheless, according to some workplace conflict statistics, the results equate to about $359 billion in lost productivity. Breaking it down further, studies show that individual workers have to spend about three hours (2.8 to be precise) handling various conflicts and their after-effects.

While $359 billion sounds like a lot, the actual number is likely much higher. Not only are there more conflicts that may not be reported, but the figure is from a 2008 study. Considering how productive workers are in the 2020s, the loss is probably closer to half a trillion (if not more).

But what does the study define as “workplace conflict?” It defines the problem as any disagreement that disrupts the flow of work. With such a broad definition, examples of workplace conflicts can include incidents like:

  • Arguments
  • Shouting Matches
  • Avoidance and Silence
  • Physical Altercations
  • Passive-Aggressive Behavior
  • Sabotaging and Retribution

We’ll break down how these conflicts can manifest on the job, but it’s imperative to understand the different ways that incidents can occur. Knowing what they are and their causes can lead to better conflict resolution and employee engagement.

Co-Workers Arguing While Sitting on a Desk

Examples of Workplace Conflicts and Their Effects

Effectively managing conflict means having a clear understanding of what’s at stake and what can be done to minimize the damage. Ideally, all conflicts can be prevented, but as long as the company has a comprehensive conflict management plan, it should be relatively easy to resolve these issues quickly and effectively.

That said, let’s look at some specific examples and the potential costs of each incident.

Peer-to-Peer Conflict

A peer-to-peer conflict can be among employees or managers, as long as the individuals involved are on the same authority level. For example, two cashiers may have an argument, or two managers may have a disagreement during a meeting.

Peer-to-peer conflicts are often personal. That means they’re based on an individual dislike of another person, rather than something related to the business. However, some incidents may be related to how one person acts at work, such as if they’re perceived to be lazy, arrogant, or bull-headed in their workplace tactics.

Typically, peer-to-peer conflict can lead to issues like employee turnover or poor workplace culture. In many cases, either an individual (or both) may be terminated or moved to another department or location. If that happens, another side effect of these conflicts can be losing a high-value employee or manager.

The only advantage of a peer-to-peer conflict is that it’s often a bit easier to engage in conflict resolution. For example, if two front-line workers are arguing, a manager can step in and put a stop to the incident. Similarly, if two managers are fighting, a higher-level executive can mitigate the problem and help find a solution.

Worker/Manager Conflict

A worker/manager conflict happens when there is a problem between an employee and their supervisor or manager. Typically, this occurs within the same department, but there may be instances where a manager or employee is from a different department or division.

Either way, when these conflicts arise, they can be tricky to manage. Because there is a gap between authority levels, it’s imperative to manage conflict as tactfully as possible. Otherwise, there could be accusations of cronyism or favoritism, which could lead to legal action.

For example, if a manager retaliates against an employee, that could put the company in a negative position. If the conflict isn’t handled carefully, other workers may speak up or act out because of unfair practices. In some cases, a single interpersonal conflict could become widespread and lead to low morale and high turnover.

In these incidents, it’s imperative for an impartial third-party mediator to handle the situation. That said, this mediator must be able to facilitate positive outcomes without worrying about stepping on anyone’s toes or authority. When addressing conflict, it’s crucial for both parties to be on a relatively even playing field. Otherwise, a worker could sue the company and create a legal headache for everyone involved.

Employee-to-Customer Conflict

Personality clashes among co-workers are one thing, but when conflict in the workplace affects customers, that can be a huge problem. The main issue is that a customer doesn’t work for the business. So, they don’t have to abide by company rules or policies, such as non-disclosure agreements.

If a conflict does erupt between an employee and a customer or client, it’s imperative to handle it immediately. If possible, it’s best to discuss options with the customer to minimize any damage to the brand’s reputation or credibility.

That said, depending on the severity of the workplace disagreement, there may be limited actions a company can take. For example, if an employee sexually harasses or assaults a customer, that’s not an incident that should be taken lightly. In the latter case, the company is likely liable for various legal fees and health care costs, regardless of how public the incident was.

Overall, workplace conflict costs a company in several ways, such as:

  • Employee Turnover – The price of training a new employee is always higher than it is to retain an existing worker. For salaried employees, the company could spend up to nine months of their salary finding and training a new person to fill the position.
  • Lost Productivity – As we discussed, conflict is anything that interferes with someone’s ability to do their job. So, disruptive workplace politics can force employees to spend time on non-work related activities, such as meetings, conferences, and even the conflicts themselves.
  • Low Morale – A single conflict can lead to lower morale, depending on the severity of the situation and how it was handled. When workers aren’t motivated to do their jobs, they can fall behind on deadlines and benchmarks, leading to extended paid hours and higher overall costs.
  • Legal and Healthcare Costs – Although most workplace conflicts are not physical altercations, a fight could lead to injuries and property damage. When that happens, the company can be on the hook for legal fees and healthcare bills, regardless of how the fight started.

In a worst-case scenario, conflicts could instigate multiple costs, leading to a domino effect that could seriously hurt the company’s bottom line.

Office Workers Learning From a Trainer

How Does Workplace Conflict Management Training Help?

Fortunately, conflict in the workplace doesn’t have to be disruptive and costly. With the right training program, a business can be proactive about preventing and minimizing incidents if or when they occur.

Here are the tangible and quantifiable benefits of investing in a high-quality conflict resolution program.

Resolve Conflicts Faster

The longer a conflict is allowed to continue, the worse its effects will be. For example, a single argument may only lead to mild productivity losses. However, if an individual spends a week dealing with an abusive boss or co-worker, that can add up to significant paid hours spent on non-work activity.

So, the ability to resolve conflicts as soon as possible means that the business can minimize those losses and maintain productivity levels. While it may be tempting to shrug off a single incident, it’s imperative to address the underlying issue immediately before it shows up again later on.

Improve Employee Morale

If a conflict arises, the damage caused by it can be hard to rein in. However, the more proactive your business is at addressing conflicts and resolving them, the less impact they have on employees and managers.

In many cases, the cost isn’t related to the conflict itself. Instead, it’s related to secondary issues, such as low morale or higher turnover rates. When workers see managers taking a strong, proactive approach to conflict management, they feel respected and valued.

In some instances, a swift response may be able to negate any costs. In an ideal situation, a proactive resolution may lead to better productivity and higher morale compared to before the incident.

Streamline Operations

Conflict resolution training is not just about identifying and preventing arguments in the workplace. This training also focuses on open communication, collaboration, and active listening. These are all strong traits for leaders to possess, meaning that conflict management training could make individuals better at running their teams or the company itself.

In many instances, the lessons taught in the training can translate to other aspects of the business. When managers and executives are better at communicating and sharing ideas, they can foster a more productive work environment for everyone involved.

Four People Fist-Bumping Each Other While Sitting at a Desk

How to Incorporate Conflict Management Training

Knowing the value of conflict resolution training is one thing, but implementing a strategy is another. Here are some tips on how to get the best return on investment:

  • Identify Key Individuals – First, you want to figure out who will benefit from this training the most. Core trainees can include executives, department managers, and hourly supervisors. Typically, it’s those at the top of the chain of command who can benefit the most. As they become better leaders (as certified by our training), they can create better results for the entire business.
  • Create Systems for Reporting and Handling Workplace Conflict – While it’s imperative to train the right people, it’s also vital to understand that conflict management is larger than any one person. So, creating systems allows workers to report incidents and relay information up the chain of command. When individuals are empowered to take action against conflicts, they’re more likely to follow through. If employees don’t know what to do when a conflict arises, they may not bring it up at all.
  • Be Proactive About Addressing Workplace Conflict – It’s never a good idea to wait for a conflict in the workplace to erupt. Often, an argument or shouting match is the result of long-term personality clashes or issues below the surface. So, trainees should seek out signs of brewing conflict and step in before anything drastic happens.
  • Use Professionals – Peaceful Leaders Academy offers online training certifications, and we work with your team to deliver targeted results. Your business is unique, so your conflict resolution training should be too. We customize our lessons to address industry-specific incidents so your trainees are better prepared for what they may encounter.

If you’re ready to invest in conflict management, contact Peaceful Leaders Academy today.

Valerie Dansereau has more than twenty years of experience in corporate America, so the world of business is very familiar turf. She has written for many different types of business from healthcare to addiction recovery to banking to B2B. For Peaceful Leaders Academy, she focuses on conflict management, de-escalation, and leadership development.

Leave A Comment