A significant portion of the UK workforce is grappling with the detrimental effects of workplace conflict, according to the CIPD Good Work Index 2024.

The report reveals that a quarter of UK employees—an estimated eight million people—have experienced conflict at work in the past year.

This conflict has been linked to lower job satisfaction and poorer mental and physical health outcomes.

The CIPD’s latest findings indicate that among those who reported conflict, the most common experiences included being undermined or humiliated (48%), being shouted at or involved in heated arguments (35%), verbal abuse or insults (34%), and discriminatory behaviour (20%).

In light of these findings, the CIPD is urging employers to prioritise line management training and to address the root causes of workplace conflict, such as poor management practices and excessive workloads. Effective people management is seen as essential in creating supportive and inclusive work environments where conflicts can be minimised or resolved early.

A benchmark for quality

The CIPD Good Work Index, which surveys over 5,000 UK workers annually, serves as a benchmark for job quality in the UK. It measures various aspects of job quality, including workers’ day-to-day experiences and the impact of work on their health and wellbeing.

The survey highlights a stark contrast in job satisfaction between those who experienced conflict and those who did not. Only 54 percent of employees who reported conflict were satisfied with their job, compared to 77 percent of those who did not experience any conflict. Furthermore, employees who faced conflict were twice as likely to consider leaving their job within the next 12 months (33% vs. 16%).

Confidence in senior leaders’ abilities and trust in their integrity were also significantly lower among employees who experienced conflict. This underscores the importance of proactive measures to address workplace conflict.

Conflict leads to exhaustion

Jake Young, senior adviser for employee experience, OD and L&D at the CIPD, commented on the findings: “While a healthy level of discussion and debate in a workplace can be valuable, our survey suggests that workplace conflict is often much more than this, harming the job satisfaction and wellbeing of far too many. Line management training should be a priority for employers, so managers can foster more positive relationships in their teams and address any conflict early on, before it has a chance to escalate. It’s also important to pinpoint and address the underlying causes of conflict, including excessive workloads, exhaustion and pressure.”

The report also found that employees who experienced conflict were more likely to feel exhausted and under pressure. Specifically, 42 percent of those who faced conflict said they always or often felt exhausted, compared to 18 percent of those who did not report conflict. Similarly, 37% felt under pressure frequently, compared to 15 percent of those without conflict.

In terms of health impact, only 28 percent of employees who experienced conflict felt that their work positively impacted their mental health, compared to 43 percent of those who did not face conflict. Additionally, only 25 percent reported a positive impact on their physical health, compared to 32 percent of their counterparts.

The survey also revealed that the most common response to conflict was to “let it go” (47%), with fewer employees opting to discuss the issue with managers or HR (29%), have informal discussions (21%), or talk directly with the person involved (17%). A mere 1 percent took the conflict to an employment tribunal.

A lack of confidence in senior staff

Young emphasised the need for a supportive environment: “Our findings show that when conflict does happen, a lot of it is simply let go, which may suggest a lack of confidence in senior staff to address these issues constructively. And so the cycle of conflict stands to continue. Managers and senior leaders should encourage open and supportive work environments, where employees feel they have a voice and line managers feel empowered to have difficult conversations through effective training.”

The CIPD’s report highlights the pressing need for improved management practices and a proactive approach to handling workplace conflict, to ensure better job quality and overall wellbeing for employees.

 

 

 

 

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Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.