Workplace arguments can have 'severe impact'

One in four employees have had a workplace dispute in the past year that has affected their ability to fully do their job, a new survey has found.

The survey, by Crown-owned dispute mediation consultancy FairWay Resolution, asked about 400 workers about conflict in the workplace.

It found 24 per cent had experienced at least one disagreement at work that had distracted them or prevented them from doing their job.

A third of those disagreements lasted for longer than a month, which FairWay chief executive Greg Pollock said was likely to have had a big impact on productivity.

"Conflict isn't in itself bad. In fact when you think about it, conflict is really a contest of ideas or a process by which people debate the issues," he said.

"I think the issue is when conflict goes unresolved or becomes personal and stops people from performing their jobs most effectively."

Organisations that encouraged and resolved conflict were some of the most innovative ones but many managers had no training in managing conflict and there needed to be zero-tolerance of bullying or unsafe workplaces, he said.

Lost sleep, missed deadlines, high staff turnover and low morale were some of the results when conflict was not dealt with. Fourteen per cent of those in conflict reported taking time off.

However, only 6 per cent of staff were willing to bring their issues up with human resources.

"It didn't surprise us that few people went to talk to HR because they've got other avenues," Pollock said. "It might be they're talking directly to their manager, it might be they're talking to their peers, friends and family.

"The main thing is, we see people going to look for assistance when they experience the conflict rather than just holding on to it themselves."

The research also found workers were more likely to get into disagreements in the public sector (37 per cent) than the private sector (23 per cent).

"One possible explanation is that often in the public sector, organisations are larger, there are more hierarchies and there's more ability for conflict to occur within the levels of the organisation," Pollock said.

Workers argued most about how to perform a task (20 per cent), policies and procedures (17 per cent), working hours (14 per cent) and treatment of staff (13 per cent).

And the workers most likely to get into conflict had been at a workplace for one to five years.

Few people got into arguments in their first year, suggesting it took them time to get to know their fellow workers and conditions. Workers aged between 35 and 54 were the most likely to strike conflict (63 per cent).

FairWay hoped to delve deeper into some of the trends the research unearthed because of the severe impact conflict could have.

"We need to find ways of talking about the issue and try to resolve it," Pollock said.