Whatever form they take, workplace conflicts can shake up even the sturdiest business, affecting the entire workforce and possibly even the standing of the company. Although conflicts can’t be totally eliminated, their impact can be reduced by company policies regarding how to resolve disputes. Understanding the consequences of a conflict can help you reach a quicker resolution and a more effective containment of the fallout that can ensue from drama at work.
The most obvious consequence of workplace conflict is a decrease in productivity. Say two workers get in a shouting match over whose responsibility it is to fix a problem. At very least, those two workers won’t be performing their jobs while they’re engaged in the row. Whether it’s a fist fight, a war of words, an ongoing rivalry or all of the above, conflict also creates mental and emotional fatigue for the participants, and they’re going to continue to be less productive after it’s over. Time spent plotting, brooding, being paranoid or gossiping is all time not spent on the job. And what about the other workers watching the fight? This productivity drain can affect the whole staff too, as others are tempted to gossip, take sides and protect themselves against possible fallout from the conflicts. (ref 1)
Workplace conflict also has a draining effect on other resources besides the productivity of the workers. First of all, many employees, especially managers, may have to attend to conflict resolution rather than their jobs. This means that people who were not even party to the conflict will get less work done, and will be scrambling to catch up. Rules and policies may have to be either developed or enforced, which also takes time and effort. In serious cases, time and money might even need to be spent hiring new workers, moving workers to other departments or editing schedules. In the most severe cases, lawsuits can result from workplace conflict. (ref 2)
Workplace conflict can also cause harm by taking a negative toll on the public image of a company. Conflict can turn off otherwise devoted customers or contradict the marketing of the company, making it unappealing to potential clients. In certain industries, conflicts and tension might be evident to customers, directly influencing their perception of the company. In other cases, conflicting personalities might give misleading or contradictory information to potential clients. In the worst cases, major scandals can result from conflicts. Some might even be severe enough to destroy the company image completely.
Lack of Communication
Communication is essential to a healthy and productive business. Employees need to collaborate and work together to get the job done in the most efficient manner. Conflict can take a big bite out of honest and effective communication and can lead other employees to become fearful to communicate at all. Staff members might get totally absorbed in protecting themselves and their workplace territory and cease to work well or communicate with others. Cliques often form around conflicts, with supporters of each party squaring off and no longer communicating. The atmosphere of competition and mutual distrust can destroy communication, sucking the lifeblood out of the company. (ref 3)
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."