Last reviewed 30 January 2020

A new report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has called on organisations to train managers to be more effective at managing conflict at work, following concerns that a quarter of employees think tough issues like bullying and harassment are “swept under the carpet” in their organisations.

The CIPD’s report, which is based on two large scale surveys, one of employers and one of employees, highlights a number of ongoing line management problems, related to causing and preventing bullying and harassment at work:

  • Around 15% of workers have experienced bullying in the last three years, while 4% say they’ve been sexually harassed at work and 8% have experienced other forms of harassment.

  • Four in 10 (40%) of those who have been bullied or harassed say their manager was responsible, while a third (34%) of employers said one of the top barriers to effective conflict management is that managers don’t have the confidence to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

  • A quarter of employees (24%) think challenging issues like bullying and harassment are swept under the carpet in their organisation.

  • Only two-fifths (40%) of line managers say they have had people management training.

Commenting on the report, Rachel Suff, Senior Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, said, “Managers should be important role models, set expectations of behaviour around dignity and respect, and gain the trust of their team.

“The number of managers who are being blamed for harassment and bullying should serve as a wake-up call to employers to put training managers at the heart of efforts to prevent inappropriate workplace behaviour.

“Our research shows that managers who’ve received training can help to stop conflict from occurring and are much better at fostering healthy relationships in their team. And when conflict does occur, they can help to resolve the issue more quickly and effectively.”

Comment by Croner Associate Director Paul Holcroft

This report highlights how important it is for employers to have clear procedures in place for the management of conflict between staff.

If poorly managed, or not addressed at all, conflict at work may result in the deterioration of working relationships, grievances and resignations. Employers can even be liable to potentially costly tribunal claims if an employee successfully claims they have been harassed and the business did not take “reasonable steps” to prevent this.

When an employer becomes aware of a conflict or dispute between staff, the first action they should take is to acknowledge it.

If the issue is left unresolved, tensions may rise, and it could evolve into a more serious issue, such as harassing behaviour. Each individual involved should be invited to an initial informal chat to find out more about the problem and, if this does not work, mediation should be considered if both parties are willing.

Mediation is a voluntary process, overseen by an independent third party, that can address all individual issues and determine a resolution most beneficial to the business.

For example, maybe the individuals in question can be separated going forward or provided with an opportunity to discuss their issues with each other in a controlled environment.

If necessary, it may be that a disciplinary procedure is needed to address conduct from one or both of the parties concerned.

All companies should maintain clear policies and procedures in relation to bullying and harassment that demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach towards this conduct and the procedure that will be followed.