Did you know workplace conflict is costing UK employers £28.5bn a year?

According to a report, published by Acas, the cost to companies as a result of conflict comes from resignations, absences and presenteeism, as well as the cost of replacing employees and the management time involved in investigating grievances.

Conflict doesn’t, therefore, just impact the individual, but can have a damaging trickle effect through an organisation and lead to a toxic, untenable workplace culture.

As a leader, it’s imperative for the health of your people and your organisation that you do what you can to prevent grievances occurring.

Here are the top five mistakes leaders make that can open the door for conflict and allow it to escalate.

  1. Turning a blind eye

If you hear whispers of issues within your team, hoping the situation will go away or resolve itself is very unlikely to work. Usually, such rumblings are actually signs of an iceberg with much more going on underneath the surface.

Behaviour like bullying or microaggressions, which are notoriously insidious and not always easy to spot, can all too simply be brushed under the carpet and or shrugged off as someone reacting “too sensitively” to a situation.

Resist the urge of that temptation, listen to what your people have to say without presumption and nip issues in the bud before they escalate. You could try informal measures such as addressing an issue with the alleged perpetrator directly or utilising a third-party mediation service.

  1. Saying you’re too busy

With a busy workload, you could be tempted to convince yourself that you’re too busy to look into a complaint properly. Also, with the advent of remote working, with no onlookers or people knocking on your office door, it’s almost too easy to put an email to one side or ignore a phone call.

However, employers have a legal duty of care to do all they reasonably can to protect their people from discrimination, bullying and harassment. If you do not do what you can to stop issues from escalating, you may not just be dealing with a formal grievance, but an employment tribunal.

  1. Being inconsistent

Everyone in your team should be expected to follow the same rules of conduct, so you should be prepared to treat them all the same way whenever any of them overstep the mark. Don’t say “It’s just the way they are” or “You know what they’re like” if someone comes to you with a complaint about a colleague. Also, don’t try to excuse someone because they’re a good worker and you don’t want to rock the boat with someone who plays an integral role in your team.

Allowing selected people to get away with poor behaviour – whether they’re just set in their ways or really good at their job – will not quash the issues and leave an open door for them to escalate into formal procedures.

  1. Thinking this “people stuff” is all too fluffy

Helping to resolve workplace conflict is no fluffy matter. In fact, this can often be used as an excuse by those wishing to avoid doing the challenging but important work of holding people to account.

As a leader, you sometimes have to have direct and difficult discussions about people’s behaviour – sometimes when they don’t even realise their conduct is deemed unacceptable. The temptation can be to simply ignore the conversation altogether, worried that the encounter would irreparably damage a working relationship or your own wellbeing. But the impact of avoiding the conversation is always far greater than actually having the conversation.

  1. Getting HR to manage your team

You don’t want to do the “people stuff” so you contract it out to the HR team. It may help you be more liked amongst your team members, but such a move does not reflect well on you. In fact, it’s likely that people will not respect you.

If your people do not respect you, it’s almost impossible to be an effective leader on all fronts, let alone keep everyone’s behaviour in check.

An HR representative is also unlikely to know the dynamics of your team like you do, making it more difficult for them to get to the bottom of issues and deal with successfully them before they erupt into larger conflicts.


Tell Jane helps organisations across the UK handle grievances and investigate complaints with a fair, transparent and unbiased process, as well as upskilling people managers through leadership coaching and building inclusive workplaces. Find out more by emailing hello@telljane.co.uk.


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