New Study Details Effects of Workplace Conflict on Businesses

Oct. 7, 2008
According to a new report, workplace conflict is rampant throughout the business world, with U.S. companies spending more than 2.8 hours per employee per week dealing with conflict, which equates to approximately $359 billion in paid hours in 2008.

Employees around the world on average spend 2.1 hours per week dealing with conflict. However, this figure rises to 2.8 hours in the United States, where roughly one in three employees (33 percent) say that conflict has led to personal injury or attacks, while one in five employees (22 percent) report that it has led to illness or absence from work. Additionally, 10 percent of workers report project failure as a direct result of conflict.

“These figures should be a wake-up call to industry leaders,” said Jeff Hayes, CEO, CPP Inc. “Companies are losing billions of dollars because of poorly managed conflict, and we expect that figure to grow in a down economy as stress and workload – two of the biggest causes of conflict – rise.”

The study also uncovered a significant variance between managers’ appraisal of their own ability to manage conflict and the observations of the employees under them. Nearly one-third of managers (31 percent) feel they’re skilled at dealing with conflict. However, only slightly more than one-fifth of employees (22 percent) feel that their managers deal with conflict well.

“If acknowledgement of a problem’s existence is the first step toward solving it, this gap between perception and reality is troubling,” said Rich Thompson, director of Research, CPP Inc.

Conflict Can Benefit Organization

However, the study also shows that properly managed conflict actually benefits an organization, the key determinant being whether it trains its managers to handle differences constructively.

“Conflict is a normal and essential part of the human condition that companies should work to manage rather than eliminate,” said Thompson. “An organization without conflict may also lack that all-important creative spark.”

In the United States, 81 percent of workers report having seen positive outcomes from workplace conflict. Nearly half of all surveyed (41 percent) said they had emerged from workplace conflict with a better understanding of others, while around one-third of employees (33 percent) report improved working relationships, and almost as many (29 percent) found better solutions to problems. Around one in 10 employees (9 percent) even saw a major innovation, while 21 percent saw higher performance in their team.

Specialized Training Needed

Positive outcomes, however, are directly tied to conflict management training. Countries with high incidence of training report high proportions of positive outcomes, while countries in which training is less prevalent report low proportions of positive outcomes.

“This research clearly shows the astounding amount of workplace debate, disagreement and negotiation that take place in business,” said Josh Bersin, president and CEO of Bersin & Associates, a leading analyst firm in enterprise learning and talent management. “If high-performing business and HR leaders are to turn conflict into positive business change, they must take the time to coach and train their employees to effectively deal with differences of opinion, style and points of view.”

To read the complete report, visit

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!