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The Human Cost of Workplace Conflict

Prioritizing the well-being of employees is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic business decision that significantly reduces the human and financial cost of workplace conflict.


the cost of workplace conflict

Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth — or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. —Kenneth Cloke & Joan Goldsmith, Resolving Conflicts at Work: A Complete Guide for Everyone on the Job

Where humans gather conflicts are inevitable. And the modern workplace is no exception to that. The impact of unresolved workplace conflicts on employees' physical and mental well-being cannot be underestimated. As organizations strive to foster a healthy and productive work environment, it is crucial to recognize the toll that unresolved conflicts can take on employees. This article explores the ways in which workplace conflict affects the well-being of employees and why businesses should prioritize the role of conflict resolution experts to sustain a positive and productive workplace culture so that conflict can be a source of “inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth.”

 

What Is the Cost of Workplace Conflict in Your Organization?

 

No company can afford the fallout from unresolved conflict. According to the CPP study the primary causes of workplace conflict are personality clashes and warring egos (49 percent), followed by stress (34 percent) and heavy workloads (33 percent). The study also reveals that between one and five hours a week is spent managing disagreements. Reflecting on the size of your organization and average salary or hourly wage, you can easily calculate the financial cost of workplace conflict, but what about the human cost?

 

The Human Cost of Workplace Conflict

 

Workplace conflict takes an emotional toll on everyone, especially when a disagreement spills over into other departments. Many people experience anxiety, frustration, and anger, creating a ripple effect that leads to:


  • Poor morale — employees dread coming to work

  • High-turnover — a real loss of institutional knowledge, adding to other team members carrying the load until a new employee is onboarded

  • Communication breakdowns — employees are unable to talk through assignments and problems

  • Physical and mental health issues — increasing concerns for the health and wellbeing of employees, such as high blood pressure or weakened immune system, as well as unintentional mistakes or accidents

  • Disruption of team dynamics — breakdown in trust and respect necessary for authentic team engagement

 

The CPP study also finds “when conflicts are not addressed effectively, emotions can run high and individuals suffer” with over a quarter of research participants or 27 percent acknowledging involvement in a workplace disagreement that led to personal insults or attacks, while 25 percent state conflict leads to sickness or absence.

 

Workplace Peace Institute’s Dr. Robyn Short asks leaders to “imagine a scenario where disputes are swiftly and effectively resolved, allowing your business to thrive without unnecessary hurdles.” This is the reality that can be realized when business leaders prioritize conflict resolution experts as part of an overall employee well-being strategy.  

 

Hiring a professionally trained mediator to support employees in navigating workplace conflict creates an organizational culture where everyone becomes resilient, agile, energized, and empowered to navigate conflict with peace and dignity. Conflict resolution experts bring numerous benefits to the workplace culture, including:


  • Neutral Conflict Engagement: Conflict resolution experts, often trained mediators, bring a neutral perspective to the table. Their impartiality helps in facilitating open and honest communication between conflicting parties, fostering an environment conducive to resolution.

  • Effective Communication: Conflict resolution experts are skilled in promoting effective workplace communication. They help employees express their concerns and viewpoints in a constructive manner, ensuring that conflicts are addressed and resolved rather than escalating into more significant issues.

  • Building a Positive Workplace Culture: By prioritizing conflict resolution experts, businesses can actively contribute to building a positive workplace culture. A culture that values open communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution fosters a sense of well-being among employees and contributes to higher job satisfaction.

  • Prevention of Escalation: Conflict resolution experts are adept at identifying and addressing conflicts at an early stage, preventing them from escalating into more significant problems. Early intervention is key to maintaining a healthy workplace culture and preventing the negative consequences associated with prolonged conflicts.


Ensuring the following services are available as part of an employee wellness program will support employees in co-creating a healthy, thriving workplace culture:


  • Conflict coaching — individual development in self-awareness, communication, resolution strategies

  • Restorative practices and justice facilitation — repairing harm and taking responsibility through talking, conflict, support, and healing circles

  • Conflict training — small group development in areas of communication, resolution strategies, mediation techniques

  • Dialogue facilitation and mediation active listening, structured dialogue to encourage participation.

 

While companies offer employee assistance programs, an EAP is an external benefit employees must initiate as a resource for their well-being. However, workplace culture and conflict are the responsibility of the company with direct connection to daily collaboration, performance, and productivity.

Every conflict reflects what each person most needs to learn in that moment. —Kenneth Cloke

“Every conflict reflects what each person most needs to learn in that moment,” states Kenneth Cloke. As a part of employee wellness, a professional conflict resolution mediator can ensure that each person is able to achieve their individual and collective learning by ensuring the respect and dignity of each person involved in the process is held at the highest level so that the parties can move forward and work together and by helping the organization foster and preserve working relationships


Prioritizing the well-being of employees is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic business decision. Unresolved workplace conflicts can have a profound impact on both the physical and mental health of employees, leading to decreased productivity and a toxic work environment. Businesses that invest in conflict resolution experts demonstrate a commitment to fostering a positive workplace culture, ultimately contributing to the overall success and sustainability of the organization. As the business landscape evolves, recognizing the importance of conflict resolution experts becomes paramount in ensuring the well-being of employees and the long-term success of the enterprise. Working directly with your organization, a professional mediator can facilitate learning during the resolution process and is available to design and assist ongoing training for employee and organizational wellness. When people thrive, organizations thrive.

 

Workplace Peace Institute is an organization systems design and research firm that is singularly focused on creating workplace cultures where people thrive. Workplace Peace Institute supports small to mid-sized businesses in optimizing employee engagement, maximizing organizational productivity, and improving profitability by infusing human security and dignity as foundational attributes of their business model.

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