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The Solution to Your Workplace Conflict?

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Working With Independent Neutrals, Conflict Experts, Mediators and/or Ombuds

The problem:

Conflict in the workplace can be both an annoyance and an expensive proposition.
U.S. employees spend an average of 2.8 hours per week dealing with non-productive conflict. This lost productivity equates to $359 billion in paid hours on an annual basis.

It was found that 85 percent of all employees experience interpersonal conflict in the workplace.[1] To find out how this is impacting your own organization’s profitability, multiply 2.8 by the hourly wage for each of your employees. Surprised?

According to the report, roughly one in three employees (33 percent) said that conflict has led to personal injury or attacks, while one in five (22 percent) reported that it has led to illness or absence from work.

Meanwhile, other researchers found that managers, on average, spend up to 30 percent of their time dealing with conflict.[2] Unfortunately, most managers are not provided with the necessary tools to effectively deal with conflict.

Yet, it is said that preventing and addressing workplace conflict is the single most preventable cause of lost revenue for businesses of all sizes. Not only is conflict costly, but it can bring irreversible non-economic consequences to your company, team, and project in morale and employee engagement. Also, not addressing obvious workplace problems can cost you “leadership currency”.  Your reputation and your ability to lead will suffer. Employees do take notice of how management deals with conflict. How your manage conflict reflects your values.

What causes conflict in the workplace?

A number of factors contribute to conflict situations in the workplace stemming from personality factors, to misunderstandings, poor communication skills, team dysfunction, strained relationships, clashes of values, unmet expectations, perceptions of unfair treatment, unfair treatment, salary disputes, poor management, poor working conditions, systemic unfairness, broken promises, policy violations, unprofessional conduct, and many other reasons.

However, not all conflict is negative; in fact, conflict is necessary for progress, fair competition and forms part of healthy organizations.

What do employees do when they confront conflict?

People do not like conflict, generally, unless they use it to control and as a tool of competition or bullying.  In response to conflict, most employees suffer in silence. If the problem becomes more acute, they resort to altering their routines, schedules, and behaviors to avoid confrontations. Most employees stop speaking to one another unless it is absolutely required; they resort to emails and texts which can carry devastating consequences especially if the communication turns negative. In discriminatory and retaliatory environments, this candid evidence can be damning to your company. Employees complain to peers, gossip abounds, camps form, and employee engagement, and productivity suffers.  Employees spend time plotting their next move. Absenteeism increases, PTO is exhausted, and they may look for another job in order to avoid the source of conflict. Defamation, sabotage, and workplace violence may ensue.

The good news:

Negative conflict in the workplace can be assessed, prevented, managed, and minimized.

How? There are several ways to address it depending on the nature of the problem your company is facing. Some problems can have expedient, effective, and positive solutions with training. Others may need mediation, coaching, facilitated conversations, focus groups, town hall meetings, training, workshops, personnel actions, or a combination of all approaches. Even attitudinal surveys can be part of a needs assessment to identify areas and issues that present problems.

One thing is clear, employees tend to emulate what their superiors do and say, or don’t, and so it becomes important that company management sets a good example for employees. If management tends to look for win-win solutions and addresses conflict quickly, employees will tend to do the same with their peers and management.

Ignoring conflict in the workplace is not an option, especially when expert help and fitting solutions are at your fingertips.

How do you decide what approach is suitable for your particular conflict situation?

While most workplace conflict situations are fairly easy to identify and assess, sometimes you may need to bring a neutral expert to help you evaluate the conflict from a dispassionate perspective and provide you with a fair assessment, and possible solutions to the problem.

In certain situations conflict is so overwhelming that managers lose perspective and objectivity in strategizing their next move. Unbeknownst to them, resolution of certain conflicts is best handled under Attorney-Client Privilege depending on the nature of the conflict and especially, if litigation is anticipated. In these cases it is paramount that you protect assets and minimize losses and keep the intervention confidentially protected by law.

Our experts will help you distinguish which type of conflict needs specific modalities for solution and when counsel involvement must become a critical part of the total approach to conflict.

What are the benefits of managing conflict?

Competent conflict management has positive effects in the workplace. It can maximize employee engagement, increase effective team relations, increase efficiencies and morale, improve your decision-making capacities, lower turn-over, augment your “leadership capital”, and reduce possible litigation. It can also reduce incidents in which you may need to invest in the services of a mediator to resolve team or specific relationships conflict.

It is best to make use of a concerted and purposeful effort to discuss and address conflict management solutions before your company is found in an untenable conflict that necessitates the intervention of either: government agencies or opposing counsel.

What is the real impact of an Ombuds?

Human Resources investigations tend to minimize when Ombuds are part of the organization because the Ombuds can assist the visitor with clarifying and distinguishing concepts that the average employee cannot distinguish. For instance, when they claim they are “feeling harassed”, they usually use the term in a colloquial manner, not understanding the legal significance.  Sometimes harassment may be actionable, sometimes not. Absent an Ombuds in the organization, Human Resources must conduct an investigation when employees raise these concerns and they fall in one or more of the protected categories. Ombuds can provide information to the visitor, educate them and refer the visitor to the EAP if warranted. Because the Ombuds cannot take notice for the organization, if the visitor still believes they have a “harassment” case, the visitor’s case is referred to the Human Resources office for investigation. The Ombuds does not make determinations or conduct investigations for the visitor but will explore options for them and assist them in strategizing their next step in their quest to resolve their problem.

Summary:

Conflict abounds in organizations and you have a choice: to make it more manageable or to allow conflict to follow its own course. The advantages of using an experienced part-time contract Ombuds to resolve differences are well known: confidentiality is assured to the visitor, which makes it an appealing feature for someone who needs a trusted ear. By facilitating problem-solving, issues do not fester.  A part-time contract roaming or remote Ombuds is an inexpensive proposition to organizational conflict as evidenced by the many Fortune 100 corporations that employ Ombuds.  Ombuds educate the visitor about potential options that facilitate conflict resolution in your organization making your employees more focused, which can translate into a more profitable and engaged workplace.

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BIOGRAPHY

Conchita Franco Serri is the Principal of Serri Ombuds Solutions LLC. Her expertise encompasses conflict resolution management, mediation and organizational development. She has worked primarily for academic institutions including Pomona College, Stanford University Medical Center and Santa Clara University. She is also an external consultant to Kenexa/IBM. Conchita has also provided executive coaching services to executives serving on boards and to management in non-for-profit institutions.

Small to medium colleges, universities, medical organizations and business can now benefit from Conchita’s expertise as a part-time contractor to bring them Remote and Roaming Contract Ombuds Services. Conchita provides flexibility to clients and works on a fee for service model and works 4-10 hours per week for each client depending on their needs. She spends 85-90% of her time assisting visitors using phones and internet modalities. Conchita travels onsite once a month to meet with visitors or to conduct mediation or facilitated conversations. She is pleased that her Ombuds services have a positive impact in the workplace. She also consults with Human Resources executives on how to establish a mutually beneficial yet independent relationship that reduces employees’ conflict situations and needless investigative work for Human Resources.

Conchita also brings a fresh and innovative approach to mediation and conflict management. She is the creator and founder of PingingTea, a transpersonal phenomenological fishbowl performance art event designed to provide an alternative solution for solving interpersonal conflict and/or improving personal relations. She brings performance art events to colleges and universities upon request.

Conchita received her master’s in Education from Harvard and a Law degree from Boston College Law School. As a full member, she practices under the guidance of the International Ombudsman Association (IOA). Her most recent peer-reviewed article is entitled: “Self-Compassion and the Dynamics of Investigating Sexual Harassment”, which was published in the Business Communication Quarterly, December 2006.  Conchita is a dynamic public speaker and presenter.  She is a published author and the recipient of CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book of the Year, 1997 for “Notable Latino Americans: A Biographical Dictionary”, a Greenwood Press publication.  She enjoys poetry, Argentine tango, art, wine tasting, spirituality and foreign films.

LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/conchitaserri/

© Serri Ombuds Solutions 2013 All Rights Reserved



[1] CPP Global Human Capital Report, July 2008

[2] Thomas, K. & Schmidt, W. A survey of managerial interests with respect to conflict.  Academy of Management Journal, June, 1976.

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