Canadian Manufacturing

Managing conflicts in the workplace

Work issues impacting employee performance

MONTREAL―From Christmas parties gone horribly wrong, to widespread office jealousy over a colleague’s promotion, Francois Francoeur has seen his share of workplace conflicts.

As director of Quebec’s human resources association, Ordre des conseilliers en resources humaines agréés (CRHA), Francoeur studies discords at work.

And according to a recent study by CRHA, he’s not the only one with some stories to tell.

The CRHA study found 79 per cent of employees had witnessed a workplace conflict in the past year.

Factors such as work sector and salary didn’t have an influence, but what did make a difference was how management handled conflicts.

Only 32 per cent of employees who said their managers proactively managed conflicts reported often witnessing issues, compared to 68 per cent of workers whose bosses reportedly ignored them.

“The more a boss does to resolve conflicts, the less frequently they occur,” Francoeur says.

Before managers can deal with issues, they first need to be aware of them.

“Step out of the office, walk around and speak with people. Even something this simple can give you an idea of whether there is something going on,” he says.

Another proactive practice is being clear about employee roles and what’s expected of whom. Communication, ideally in person, is also important.

“It’s so common these days to send an email to your colleague just sitting in front of you. The more technology and tools we get, the more managers need to be careful they’re not communicating less with employees.”

Nipping conflicts in the bud can reduce their prevalence, but managers have another reason to address issues―the bottom line.

Nearly half of respondents said workplace friction adversely affected their performance. And 15 per cent of employees reported outright missing work due to conflicts.

“Some workers get so uncomfortable that it can make them sick,” Francoeur says.

While the CRHA study was limited to Quebec, national data suggests job-related discords are common across the rest of Canada, says Ted Mallett, vice-president and chief economist with the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.

Mallett points to a similar study by CFIB and Scotiabank that found several patterns when it came to employee tensions.

Issues were most likely to occur in formal work settings, likely because there’s less communication between employees in these environments, he says.

Unionized workplaces also saw higher instances of disagreements, though Mallett notes this could be a cause-and-effect relationship.

He agrees that managers can prevent conflict by dealing with tensions right away and creating an environment where everyone feels free to discuss issues openly.

“In many cases, conflicts are caused by escalation as the result of people not bringing their concerns forward,” he says.

While larger organizations may have more resources to dedicate to resolving workplace strife, Mallett says there’s good news for small-and medium-sized business owners.

“In general, the smaller workplaces tended to have more satisfied employees.”

He suggests this is linked to the more familial setting, stronger working relationships, and ability for employees to take on more fulfilling responsibilities in a smaller company.

“We also noticed that pay didn’t make a difference, which is interesting for smaller firms that can’t always compete with wages,” Mallett says.

“It goes to show that buying job satisfaction isn’t always possible. An open environment where people feel comfortable goes a lot farther than money.”

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