Is Unresolved Conflict the Biggest Barrier to Employee Engagement. Have your Say! 

Conflict is in the headlines every day. Division, discord and disharmony seem to be rife: leave or remain; black or white; male, female or gender neutral; old or young; immigrant or indigenous; rich or poor; north or south, robot or human, the fissures seem to be growing exponentially.

The Harvey Weinstein and Westminster sexual harassment scandals, coupled with high profile abuses within virtually every sector have acted as a watershed moment for the issues of bullying and harassment in the workplace. The ongoing scandals have provided a catalyst for transforming (hopefully forever) the way that we view good governance, good people management and, more broadly, good conflict management. The emergence of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns have mobilised people in a way that has rarely been seen.

As a conflict management professional and author of a new book entitled Managing Conflict (Kogan Page/CIPD), I am not surprised by some of the stories that have been breaking. For almost 20 years, I have been working with organisations to help them to embed progressive approaches for managing conflict such as mediation, coaching and mentoring and to be honest it has been an uphill struggle. In many senses, it still is.

One of the questions that I always ask Human Resources professionals, business leaders and union officials is this: what is the real impact of conflict on your organisation? What they tell me is that the costs of conflict are great: financial and reputational costs to the organisation and severe and lasting physical and psychological costs to employees.

In addition, everyone that I speak to seems to agree that dysfunctional conflict undermines employee engagement, trust and productivity. For something that is so damaging, it surprises me how little emphasis is placed on it within organisations. Whilst I was writing my book, I decided to undertake a bit of research into the area of conflict and employee engagement. Part of that was to interview EFS’s own Cathy Brown who explained to me that she perceived dysfunctional conflict as ‘one of the most significant inhibitors to employee engagement’. I decided to dig a bit deeper but that is where I became a bit unstuck. I could find barely a shred of evidence to link dysfunctional conflict with reduced employee engagement, trust and productivity or functional conflict (dialogue, debate, constructive disagreement) with enhanced employee engagement, trust and productivity.

It is for that reason that I am working with Engage for Success to establish a Thought and Action Group (TAG) to examine the impact of conflict on employee engagement, trust and productivity; to consider examples of best practice in terms of conflict management; to examine the role of managers, leaders, HR and unions; and to gather and disseminate data relating to the management of conflict and its impact on engagement, trust and motivation.

If you are interested in being part of this this Thought Action Group please contact EFS Research Director Gary Gill at gary@engageforsuccess.org

About the author

David Liddle is passionate about designing and delivering progressive approaches for managing conflict, change and crisis (although he is quick to add that talking and listening aren’t really that progressive). David is author of a new book entitled Managing Conflict (Kogan Page/CIPD) and he is CEO of the TCM Group, a leading provider of mediation services, dispute resolution training and conflict management consultancy. Prior to setting up the TCM Group, David ran a charity delivering mediation and Restorative Justice (RJ) in a wide range of community disputes. David has a degree in race and community relations plus an MBA.

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