Conflict gobbles up managers’ time
Conflict is rife in the modern workplace and it is impacting the bottom line of many organisations.
Paul Loftus, an organisational psychologist, said the average manager spends up to 30 per cent of his or her time resolving conflict at work.
Montreal-based Mr Loftus is visiting the island next week to lead a series of seminars for CPA Bermuda on conflict resolution, stress management and employee retention.
“If you look at the DNA of it, it's the win-lose dichotomy that starts in school and carries on in life, in sports, politics and business,” Mr Loftus said.
“We're brought up to compete. If you win a promotion at work, then you have to beat out others. There is competition between departments in an organisation and between individuals.”
Conflict causes erosion in working relationships and can also result in hidden agendas damaging to employers.
Mr Loftus said conflict can be caused by managers that are either too authoritarian or lacking in direction, or even by disagreements over ethics.
It can sometimes escalate to a severe extent. “A few years ago, I was brought into a situation where the two people involved had each brought a lawyer and the company had a lawyer too,” Mr Loftus said.
Keys to avoiding conflict is clear communication of what's expected — for example, in statements of employment or mission statements — and generating a culture of teamwork, inspired by clear goals for organisations and departments.
Resolving conflict could best be done through either compromise or collaboration, he said, with mediation sometimes necessary.
Mr Loftus added that stress in the workplace was on the increase, thanks largely to technology.
“Because of e-mail and mobile communications, organisations tend to feel that their employees are available 24/7,” Mr Loftus said.
“This is interfering with home life, social life, sporting life — but we are human beings, not machines. I understand that sometimes there are good reasons why we have to work in the evenings or at weekends. It's when it becomes normal that it's a problem.”
Mr Loftus said some organisations were starting to take stress seriously. “A few years ago, the attitude was, ‘If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen',” he said.
“Now, more are thinking about the wellness of their people, subsidising gym memberships, for example. That's a great outlet for stress and it's a fact that physically fit people are more productive.”
Social support networks were also essential to combat stress build-up, he said, referring to family members or trusted friends with whom people could share details of work issues.
Turnover is a problem for many organisations, particularly when valued employees leave. Exit interviews are commonplace, but Mr Loftus recommended a different focus.
“Many organisations have been doing exit interviews for years to find out why people decided to leave, but they should be doing retention interviews instead,” he said.
“HR people do exit interviews, but a line manager should do a retention interview and say something like, ‘You are a valued employee and we're very pleased with your performance — what is it that has caused you to stay with us? What motivates you? What would cause you to leave?'”
The answers could allow an organisation to make changes that could retain a high performer who had entertained thoughts of leaving, he said.
Mr Loftus will lead a seminar on stress management tomorrow, staff retention on Wednesday morning, conflict resolution on Wednesday afternoon and building high-performance teams on Thursday in the Penboss Building, on Parliament Street, Hamilton.
• For more information, contact Mr Loftus by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org