Workplace conflict can drive you to work harder and better -- if the type of conflict involved is positively motivating. But many conflict situations are the direct opposite, driving you to distraction instead. You may spend more time and energy fighting or stressing over the situation than actually working. With increased demands placed on work schedules in an increasingly fast-paced world, you probably don’t have that kind of time to waste.
The first effect you might notice when experiencing conflict at work is stress. Job stress is not uncommon and can even be motivating, as long as it stems from controllable situations. You know what you need to do and you do it. But stress stemming from conflict is not always controllable. You can lose sleep stressing over what to do. Sleep deprivation can start to affect you physically and cognitively, slowing your reflexes and thought processes. In some jobs, these effects can affect your safety and the safety of others. In the medical field, patient care can be compromised.
To escape the stress and avoid the conflict situation, you may feel the need to separate yourself from it by taking more frequent mental and physical breaks. In the short term, it can be helpful to take a few extra coffee breaks or long walks around the building. In the long term, these absences might not be enough, leading you to take more time off from work -- using up sick days and vacation days, if you have them, or losing pay if you don’t. When management takes notice of how often your desk or workstation sits empty, poor performance reviews could result.
Performance and Productivity
Performance and work productivity can also suffer from a loss of focus and attention. Conflicts can steal your focus, taking your attention away from the tasks at hand. Missed or slipping deadlines can add to already heightened stress levels. If any of those deadlines cause missed deliverables to customers, you could lose out on opportunities for bonuses or awards, and can even lose some customers. Other impacts can include re-doing tasks you couldn’t get right the first time, and working more hours to finish work you should have been able to complete during the normal work day.
Some conflicts are caused by competitiveness. These conflicts can spiral out of control when doing a better job is not enough and the fight gets dirty. Attempts to discredit you or other colleagues builds tension in the workplace and can damage relationships. People witnessing this form of conflict might try to separate themselves from the situation to avoid experiencing collateral damage. If you are involved in the situation directly, you could start to feel alienated. Collaboration in the workplace plays in important role in employee success, but when conflict harms relationships, you can lose the ability to collaborate -- and the ability to succeed.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.