A 2011 survey report published by the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) highlighted that “the scale of workplace conflict is remarkable and has increased in the recession”(1).

The report identifies how the use of grievance procedures, disciplinary actions, mediation, HR trouble shooting and having to train managers to deal with difficult situations have all increased during these challenging times.

The average number of days that management and HR spend on dealing with internal conflict has predictably risen in line with the number of cases, inevitably meaning that costs to businesses and organisations will have risen too, not forgetting costs associated with pay-outs, compromise agreements and those awarded by employment tribunals.

Interestingly, the report also highlights a high percentage of incidents where employees have complained of being bullied by line managers when facing capability or misconduct hearings.

There is even a suggestion that some organisations are so afraid of having to deal with conflict they’ve actually been discouraged from recruiting!

Conflict in the workplace isn’t new, nor is it ground-breaking news. However, the fact that it is on the increase should be cause for some concern. Why? Well, in times of recession when every penny counts, the last thing a business organisation needs is to be needlessly throwing valuable time and cash resources at situations that can be avoided or minimised.

The trouble with the workplace is that it normally has other people in it – and therein lies the potential for conflict. More often than not, workplace conflict escalates due to someone’s inappropriate behaviour or thoughtlessness. Just think about a time when you’ve been involved in workplace conflict. To what extent was the issue concerned fueled or exaggerated by the ‘bad’ behaviour of the people involved?

We’ve recently been doing some research into what could be termed ‘bad behaviour’ in the workplace and how it can contribute to team dis-functionality. It makes for scary reading when you look at some of the facts. For instance, did you know that 60% of incivility in the workplace occurs top-down?(2) That is to say that over half of the cases where ‘bad behaviour’ has caused offence and possibly led to workplace conflict has been directed from a senior to a subordinate member of staff. In fact, 80% of staff turnover can be attributed to an unsatisfactory relationship with the boss(2). Yes, 80%!

Here are some more interesting facts and figures concerning people who have been on the receiving end of bad behaviour:

47% intentionally decreased their time at work

80% lost time worrying about the incident

63% lost time avoiding the offender

66% said their performance declined

78% said their commitment to the organisation declined(2)

So, bad behaviour in the workplace has a significant impact, especially where it is received from above. But what exactly do we mean by ‘bad behaviour’.
Take a look at the list below and, (answer honestly now) identify how many of these little offences have you been guilty of?

– Arriving at meetings late or leaving early without explanation

– Acting irritated when someone asks for a favour

– Passing blame for an error or mistake

– Take credit for others’ good work or successes

– Checking email or texts during a meeting

– Sending bad news via email

– Talking down to others

– Not listening

– Setting others up for failure

– Not saying “please” or “thank you”

– Withholding information

– Failing to return calls or emails

– Shutting someone out from a team or network

– Paying little attention or showing little interest in other’s opinions(2)

Ok, so none of them are hanging offences, but all of them are, to a certain or lesser degree, examples of behaviour that others may find intolerable or at least inappropriate. The truth is, any one of them could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back; any one of them could be yet another contributor to someone feeling excluded or treated badly and any one of them could be cited during an employment tribunal as supporting evidence of workplace bullying.

The crazy thing about workplace conflict fueled by bad behaviour is that it is so avoidable. Anyone who has been through a Colour Works workshop will understand the need to react to people according to their particular behavioural preference and will know what types of behaviour to avoid and what type to adopt. Understanding our behaviours, linked with common courtesy and respect are the simplest but most effective ways of cutting down workplace conflict and avoiding the expensive HR interventions that cause down-time, bad-feeling and cost so much in terms of management time and all too often, cash.

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”

Sound familiar? It should; it was written by Plato around the 4th Century BC! No doubt you’ve heard hundreds of similar comments and have possibly made a few yourself.

So obviously this is not a new problem, nor will it probably ever go away. Perhaps, during times of recession, stress levels are that bit higher, budgets that bit tighter and tempers that much more frayed. But there is no real excuse. Until we start holding each other to account for our behaviours in the workplace, starting of course with ourselves, then bad behaviour will always have a licence-to-practice and we will have to live with and accept the consequences associated with it.

(1) Conflict Management – CIPD March 2011

(2) All figures and text quoted from “The Cost of Bad Behaviour”. Pearson & C. Porath – Portfolio 2009

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