Research perspectives

CIPD finds conflict a common occurrence at work

The CIPD has published a comprehensive report Managing conflict in the modern workplace. It is based on findings that demonstrate a serious problem of bullying and harassment in UK workplaces and the devastating impact unfair treatment can have on individuals and organisations. A total of 2,211 UK employees were surveyed between 16 August and 3 September 2019.

Some 26% of employees and 20% of employers said conflict is prominent in their workplace; 35% of employees reported having experienced some form of interpersonal conflict – either an isolated dispute or a continuing difficult relationship – over the past year. 20% agreed with the statement that ‘people in my team sometimes reject others for being different’. Verbal abuse or insults were surveyed to be 28% of perceived behaviour in workplace conflicts, with physical threats at 5% and 2% physical assault.

More than half of the respondents who reported having experienced bullying said they had not reported this to their employer, although a third (33 per cent) did say they felt more confident challenging sexual harassment than they did two years ago, when the #MeToo movement gained momentum. Less than half of employees (44%) experiencing conflict reported that the conflict or difficult relationship has so far been fully or largely resolved, and 24% feel that challenging issues such as bullying and harassment are “swept under the carpet”.

A significant proportion of employees said managers often made the situation worse. Four in 10 of those who’d experienced bullying or harassment said their manager was responsible, while 34% said managers’ lack of confidence’ in dealing with harassment meant conflict was not being dealt with effectively. Only two-fifths of managers said they had undergone any sort of training.

The report advocates the importance of fostering inclusive working cultures that do not tolerate negative conflict, and goes on to offer four key action points: building inclusive cultures based on prevention; putting the ER back into HR; shifting emphasis from process to resolution; and providing better support for managers on the front line.