Co-Workers Arguing While Sitting on a Desk

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.

Workplace conflict is ubiquitous. You are so focused on your tasks, and on the workplace conflicts in your immediate vicinity, though, that you probably have never thought to quantify them. Once you look at the numbers, it becomes obvious that your team is not the only one experiencing conflict in the workplace.

If you are in a supervisory role, addressing workplace conflict should be a priority. The data shows that a harmonious work environment improves employee morale and prevents lost productivity. Managing conflict is about more than just crunching numbers, though. These workplace conflict statistics should persuade you of the value of conflict management training.

Workplace Conflicts Suck Up Valuable Time and Emotional Resources

Employees often claim that email is the biggest source of lost productivity. They often find their tasks interrupted by emails that claim to be urgent, and the seconds and minutes they spend getting focused on a previous task after reading and responding to the emails add up to hours and days of work over the course of a year.

Email is just a means of communication, though. The content of the email is not making employees less productive. The authors of the emails may simply be responding to questions you asked them, or even just sending you friendly greetings.

Constant interruptions, even if they are pleasant or neutral, can add to workplace stress, but the biggest reason that employees lose focus and productivity at work is interpersonal conflicts. Workplace disputes and personality clashes take up approximately 2.8 hours per employee per week, according to a report by CPP Global. This means that, nationwide, employers pay $359 billion for time that employees spend engaging in interpersonal conflict instead of in work.

Too Much Conflict Leads to a Poor Workplace Culture

This does not mean that the average employee spends an average of 33.3 minutes per workday hurling personal attacks at his or her coworkers instead of working; an employee who did that would be fired before the financial losses caused by all of this unresolved workplace conflict could add up to billions of dollars per year.

Conflicts arise naturally in work environments, but when they are not managed effectively, they can lead to an unpleasant workplace culture that is not conducive to cooperation and efficient work. According to the same CPP Global report, workers say that workplace conflict makes them feel distracted (21%), frustrated (18%), anxious (9%), and stressed (9%). Only 5% of workers who participated in CPP’s 2008 survey said that they find workplace conflict exciting.

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

Where Do Workplace Conflicts Arise?

More than a third of the participants in the CPP Global survey said that the greatest source of unresolved workplace conflicts is between customers and entry-level employees who interact with the public on the front lines. Almost a quarter of participants said most conflict at work takes place between entry-level employees and their direct supervisors. Only six percent cited disagreements between members of the organization’s leadership as the main source of work conflict.

Despite this, when the parties involved are too busy retaliating against each other to realize how much work-related stress they are causing for everyone else in the organization, their poor leadership is an obstacle to a healthy work environment for all of the individuals involved in that organization. According to the CPP Global report, unresolved conflicts among members of upper management are more common in the marketing industry than in other professional fields.

The CPP survey asked employees to identify not only which members of the organization are likely to engage in conflict and disruptive workplace politics, but also the underlying causes of this behavior. 49% of survey respondents said that clashes of personalities and egos were the biggest reason for conflict.

Stress was the second most commonly cited cause, but there was a gender difference in workplace stress statistics. 38 percent of women and 32 percent of men cited stress as the leading cause of conflict at work. 29 percent attributed workplace conflict to dysfunctional leadership and a lack of open communication by managers.

Workplace Statistics on the Various Types of Conflict

Employees witness many different types of conflict on a daily basis. Frequent conflict in the work environment adversely affects employee engagement, because the more time employees spend on resolving conflicts among their coworkers, the less time they have to devote to practicing their professions.

Just how bad is this conflict? According to a report on ZipDo, 57 percent of workers have witnessed a workplace conflict that led to a physical altercation. 27 percent have seen the exchange of insults of a personal nature. 12 percent say that rumors and malicious gossip are the type of conflict they most often witness at work.

None of these things is conducive to a productive work environment. Therefore, it is important for managers to devote more attention to resolving workplace conflicts. In fact, 84 percent of the workers surveyed in the ZipDo report wish that their managers would do more to manage workplace conflict.

Workers’ Perspectives on the Causes of Conflict in the Workplace

One in every ten of the participants in the ZipDo survey said that greater transparency from management would make it easier to resolve conflicts in the workplace. A third of the participants say that people in their organization could sharpen their conflict resolution skills by gaining a better understanding of each other’s conflict management styles and strategies.

All of this serves as a stark reminder that conflict management is a successful component of employee satisfaction and a positive work environment. Instead of human resource professionals looking for the perfect, conflict-proof job candidate, and instead of management spending money on nap pods and catered lunches for the employees, they could create more positive outcomes by investing in strong conflict-resolution skills.

Person in Front of a Laptop Looking Outside the Window and Thinking

Workplace Conflict and Employment Discrimination Lawsuits

The latest workplace conflict statistics from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) show that not all workplace conflict is simply a matter of mismatched conflict management styles. Some of the workplace conflicts that interfere with workers’ job satisfaction involve coworkers or managers antagonizing employees about the personal characteristics of the employee, such as the employee’s race, gender, or religion.

The EEOC investigates claims that employees make about employment discrimination before authorizing eligible employees to file an employment discrimination lawsuit in court. More than half of the complaints the EEOC receives result in the employee getting a settlement from the employer without going to trial or in a judge ruling on the case at trial.

In 2022 alone, the federal courts paid more than $39 million in settlements and judgments to plaintiffs in employment discrimination lawsuits. In 2022, the most common protected characteristics on which the discrimination claims were based were race (28%) and sex (27%), followed by religion (18%) and national origin (8%). Some employment discrimination claims allege mistreatment based on more than one protected characteristic.

These statistics imply that, if human resource management would devote more attention to addressing conflicts when employees raise concerns about it, then employers could save a lot of the money that they currently spend on litigation related to employment discrimination claims. Addressing conflict as soon as an employee raises the issue is less costly on many levels than letting a workplace disagreement escalate into a lawsuit.

Speaking Up About Unresolved Conflicts at Work Is a Protected Activity

Resolving workplace conflict is not always easy, so even when employers cannot immediately find a solution to the interpersonal disagreements that are bothering the employee, they have the responsibility not to punish the employee for complaining to management or to the human resources department about the conflict. Retaliation by employers against employees is against the law and does not belong in the modern workplace.

Many employment discrimination lawsuits happen because, instead of trying to resolve workplace conflict, the employer takes an adverse action against the employee, such as termination of employment or reassigning the employee to a different work schedule or a different set of duties. According to the same EEOC report, 51 percent of employment discrimination claims in 2022 involved allegations of employer retaliation.

Despite the fact that the right to complain about workplace conflict is a protected activity, most employees who experience hostile behavior at work do not speak up about it. According to Itnux, 75 percent of employees who experience discrimination in their working lives do not report it to their employers because they fear retaliation.

The Itnux report goes on to say that discrimination based on protected characteristics is closely intertwined with workplace conflict. 31 percent of employees surveyed had experienced conflicts that they attributed to racial or cultural differences. In the same survey, 28 percent of employees had witnessed gender-based conflict in the work environment.

Group of People Looking at One Person Working on a Laptop

Better Conflict Resolution Skills Mean More Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is one of the most frequently measured workplace statistics. Unlike when measuring conflict statistics, though, employers are not often sure what to do with the sobering statistics regarding the lack of engagement among their workforce.

It turns out that workplace conflict management training can help employers improve the level of engagement of their employees in addition to getting more positive outcomes to conflicts that are currently plaguing the organization.

What Is Employee Engagement?

Engagement is when employees feel emotionally invested in their work and want to continue working for their current employer. The data on worker engagement are not very encouraging, however.

According to a report by Haiilo, only 20% of employees report feeling engaged with their work. Another way of interpreting this statistic is that 80% of employees go through their workday feeling unengaged. It is easy to see how this leads to decreased productivity and stands in the way of organizational development and a more harmonious work environment.

Conflict in the Workplace Is Driving Employees Away From Their Jobs

Engaged employees do not daydream about quitting their jobs. They genuinely care about contributing to the organization’s pursuit of its goals. The same Haiilo report says that nearly a third of currently employed people are searching for a new job.

This figure includes the ones who occasionally check job postings out of curiosity, the ones who are actively interviewing for other positions, and everything in between. It does not include the people who are strategizing about ways to set up their own businesses and the ones who aspire to join the Great Resignation.

Lack of engagement among employees means high employee turnover. Replacing employees who quit because of personality clashes with coworkers or because of too much stress due to workplace conflicts is costly and time-consuming for employers.

According to ERE Media, a job search to replace an entry-level employee costs about 30% of the employee’s annual salary. A job search to replace a highly specialized employee costs as much as the company ends up paying the employee they eventually hire for his or her first four years on the job.

In other words, it is not the lack of customer engagement that makes it so hard for companies to break even; rather, it is the lack of engaged employees. Rather than dropping a lot of money on splashy advertising campaigns, employers would do better to invest in conflict management training to help them retain employees.

Help Your Employees Manage Conflict and See Their Engagement Levels Improve

Pre-existing stress makes everyone more prone to clashing with other people; this applies to customers and employees alike. The busier your employees are planning their exit from your organization, the less energy they have for active listening and other conflict management best practices.

Poor communication between your employees and your customers is often a symptom of employers not devoting enough energy to resolving conflicts among employees working on the same team or between supervisors and the teams they manage.

Look at the disagreements that arise among members of your team. Some of these witnessed conflicts lead to disagreements between employees and customers. The disagreements may be minor, but they lead to customer dissatisfaction, which in turn leads to lost revenue for the company.

Customer complaints mean that managers are dissatisfied with employees’ performance, and this reduces employee satisfaction. In other words, poor communication creates a vicious cycle. By contrast, resolving conflict through an awareness of conflict management styles is a gift that keeps on giving.

Three People Talking to Each Other While Standing

Coworkers Are the Biggest Source of Workplace Conflict

According to data from Zipdo, at least 60% of employees who are experiencing workplace conflict say that differing opinions with coworkers are the biggest cause of conflict in the workplace. Based on these workplace conflict statistics, the obvious way to improve employee morale and engagement is to help employees resolve conflict with the coworkers with whom they work closely.

Open communication about conflict styles could create a work environment conducive to resolving disagreements and managing conflicts so that employees could remain emotionally invested in their current jobs.

Workplace Conflict Resolution Statistics

Conflict statistics collected from many different industries across many countries are a stark reminder of how personality clashes and other types of workplace conflicts are a source of decreased productivity, low morale, and employee attrition.

Empowering employees to resolve conflict is one of the wisest investments of time and money that you as a manager can make. The numbers show that the more actively and thoroughly managers address conflict at work, the more the organization and all the people in it thrive.

Executive Having a Online Meeting

Working With Your Preferred Conflict Management Style

One common way of categorizing conflict resolution styles in scholarly literature is the Organizational Conflict Communication Instrument. The OCCI identifies three main conflict management styles. These are control, solution orientation, and non-confrontation.

Another common categorization scheme, the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKCMI), identifies accommodating, compromising, collaborating, avoiding, and competing. The OCCI mode of control corresponds to the TKCMI mode of competing. What OCCI calls non-confrontation, TKCMI calls accommodating and avoiding. Solution orientation according to OCCI corresponds to the TKCMI modes of compromising and collaborating.

The International Journal of Research in Education and Science published a study on the methods used by secondary school teachers in Greece regarding resolving conflict in the workplace. Like many other study populations, the participants in this study reported that personality conflicts were the biggest source of workplace conflict. More participants reported solution orientation as their preferred conflict resolution strategy than either of the other OCCI modes.

The authors of the study hypothesized that people with high emotional intelligence tend to prefer the solution-orientation mode of conflict management. They opined that people with high emotional intelligence have better conflict resolution skills, in the absence of specialized conflict resolution training.

They believe that the teaching profession naturally attracts emotionally intelligent people who are eager to resolve conflicts by finding a solution that is agreeable to all parties whenever possible. The study defined the four components of emotional intelligence as appraising one’s own emotions, appraising the emotions of others, use of emotions, and regulation of emotions.

Different Ways of Resolving Workplace Conflict for Different Workplaces

A study in Contemporary Nurse found that the most prevalent conflict resolution modes among nurses varied according to whether the nurses worked in an academic setting or a clinical one. The participants were nurses in Spain, and the study questionnaire used the TKCMI instrument.

Both the nurses in academia and the ones in clinical practice preferred to engage in the collaborating mode of conflict resolution. In practice, the nurses in a clinical setting used the accommodating mode much more often than the nurses in an academic setting.

All of these workplace conflict statistics show that there is not one single way to prevent conflict in the workplace or stop it from interfering with the productivity of an organization and the morale of its members. Even within the same industry, workers need a varied toolkit of conflict resolution skills since the same person might sometimes interact directly with the public and other times act in a supervisory role.

The best way to prepare workers to deal with many types of workplace conflict is to empower them to find contextually appropriate solutions.

Study Finds Collaborating Strategies the Most Effective Way of Managing Workplace Conflict in the Manufacturing Sector

A study in the Journal of Management Strategy surveyed workers in a manufacturing firm in Nigeria on the sources of and solutions to conflict in the workplace. The study participants represented a variety of roles in the large company. The study found that integrative conflict management styles, namely collective bargaining, accommodating, and compromising, led to improved performance within the organization.

Meanwhile, non-integrative approaches to conflict in the workplace, namely avoidance, competition, and domination, were not effective at resolving conflict and were not conducive to productivity. In contrast to other studies cited, the workers in this study did not cite interpersonal clashes as the biggest cause of conflict at work.

Rather, they were most likely to experience workplace conflicts in the form of disagreements between unions and company management. The results of this study show that integrative approaches to workplace conflicts work best, whether the conflicts are occurring at the individual level or at the organizational level.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Simply reading about workplace conflict statistics will not, by itself, help you reduce employee turnover and other negative effects of conflict at work. Recognizing the problem is only the beginning. Resolving conflict in your organization is an ongoing process.

Some of the conflict statistics cite poor leadership decisions as a major source of conflict at work. Acknowledging your role in the conflicts plaguing your organization is important, but it is more likely that the problem is much bigger than you are.

Despite this, managers can play an active role in resolving conflict situations that they had no part in creating. You can be part of the solution to conflict at work whether or not you were part of the problem.

Turning Workplace Conflict Statistics Into Practical Solutions

Your goal as a manager is to create a work environment that naturally invites collaborative and integrative solutions to interpersonal, inter-organizational, and intra-organizational conflicts. It is very difficult to do this alone.

Even if you have an advanced degree in management and many years of experience, you may not have a professional level of knowledge of conflict psychology. This is understandable, as colleges of business tend to prepare graduates for the best-case scenario instead of for any possible problem that can arise in an organization of which you are in charge.

The best way to empower yourself to manage conflict in the workplace is to participate in formal training courses or one-on-one coaching on de-escalation and other aspects of workplace conflict resolution. You can even become a Certified Peaceful Leader. Your journey toward effective management of conflicts in your organization begins with Peaceful Leaders Academy.

Office Workers Learning From a Trainer

Contact Peaceful Leaders Academy and Start Effectively Resolving Workplace Conflicts

When you focus your management decisions on dealing effectively with conflict in your organization, your employees will benefit, and so will your client base. Peaceful Leaders Academy can give you the tools you need to lead with wisdom and emotional intelligence.

Contact Peaceful Leaders Academy today to set up a consultation and be on your way to a more peaceful and productive work environment for you and your employees.

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.