Business NLP Blog

The Eight Causes of Workplace Conflict (Part 2)

Causes of Workplace Conflict

Conflicts in the workplace are a common problem experienced by many employers and employees. Workplace conflicts can negatively influence the workplace in many different ways. They can lead to fighting, such as verbal gossip or even physical altercations in more extreme circumstances; workplace conflicts can also cause a lowered job satisfaction and lower productivity.

Causes of Workplace Conflict

Tension or conflicts in the workplace can be caused by many different factors. These include minor factors, such as an employee with a messy or cluttered work station, as well as major factors, such as an employee who verbally attacks another employee in an attempt to undermine their ability to work. In 2000-2002, psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart conducted a study on the causes of workplace conflicts and tension. Their study was intended to help employers and employees better understand why workplace conflicts occur and, whenever possible, prevent or resolve conflicts in the workplace. Their study resulted in the creation of eight different workplace conflict classifications: conflicting resources, conflicting styles, conflicting perceptions, conflicting goals, conflicting pressures, conflicting roles, different personal values, and unpredictable policies. In the previous article, conflicting resources, conflicting styles and conflicting perceptions were discussed. Now let’s take a look at the final five conflict classifications: conflicting goals, conflicting pressures, conflicting roles, different personal values and unpredictable policies.

Conflicting Goals

Goals in the workplace are usually related to deadlines, quotas, and overall goals which employees are expected to meet. Goals may be set in place by company heads, managers, supervisors, team members, or anyone given the authority to set a goal for another employee or a group of employees. Conflicting goals generally occur when an individual or group is given a goal by one person—such as a manager—that conflicts with the goal given by another person, such as a team leader or even another manager. For example: One manager might tell an employee that their goal is to get their work done as fast as possible, while another manager might tell that same employee that their goal is to do the work to the utmost of their ability, regardless of speed. These two conflicting goals can create tension between the employee and their managers, as well as tension between the two managers in the example.

Employers can help prevent or resolve these conflicting goals by making sure that anyone with the authority to set a goal knows that it may not conflict with other goals. They can also encourage open liens of communication between employees and their superiors, in order to ensure that an employee will feel that it is acceptable to let someone—such as a manager—know when a goal is conflicting.
Conflicting Pressures

In the workplace, pressures are created by something that needs to be done—usually within a certain timeframe. For example, an employee may need to finish a report by a certain time, or complete a certain amount of work before a certain time. When one employee’s pressures conflict with another employee’s pressures, this creates a conflict. For example: One employee may need a report from their co-worker by noon in order to relieve their own deadline pressure—but that second co-worker is already working on a different report that they need to give to someone else by noon. Conflicting pressures are similar to conflicting goals, except that pressures occur within specific deadlines or timeframes.

Employers can help prevent conflicting pressures by encouraging open communication and being willing to reschedule or move deadlines around to ensure that their employees are not experiencing conflicting pressures.

Conflicting Roles

Causes of Workplace Conflict

In the context of the workplace, a “role” is a combination of the normal responsibilities and duties of an employee. For example, an employee in the advertising department will have a role related to assignments and work related to advertising; while an employee in the sales department will have a role related to increasing and understanding a business’s sales. Sometimes, however, employees are given tasks or assignments which are outside the realm of their normal role but within the realm of someone else’s role. When this occurs, it is often perceived as “invading territory,” which can cause a power struggle and conflict between the individuals involved.

For example: An employer decides to give an assignment related to creating a commercial slogan to someone in the sales department, instead of someone in the marketing department who is ordinarily given this task. The person in the marketing department may feel that the person in the sales department has invaded their territory, or their role, creating a conflict because they may feel as if their position is being threatened.
Employers can help prevent conflicts caused by conflicting roles by ensuring that they clearly explain the reasoning behind any decisions which may be perceived as changing employee’s ordinary roles.
Different Personal Values
Personal values are a combination of an individual’s personal morality, ethics and values. Conflicts related to personal values in the workplace are usually caused by employees being asked to do something which conflicts with their own personal values. For example, an employer might ask an employee to create an ad-campaign which conflicts with their own sense of morality. This can cause conflict because an employee may be pressured to accept the assignment because they worry they might be reprimanded or even fired from their position if they say no.
Employers can help prevent conflicts related to different personal values by prating ethical leadership—or by avoiding asking employees to perform actions which go against their personal values whenever possible.

Unpredictable Policies

Consistent workplace policies create a sense of consistently and fairness among employees. For example, if every employee is held up to the same standards created by workplace policies, they will know that their workplace if fair. However, if policies are not enforced consistently in the workplace—for example, if one employee is not reprimanded for doing the same thing that another employee was reprimanded for—this can cause conflicts due to the perception of unfairness and unpredictability.
Employers can prevent conflicts caused by unpredictable policies by ensuring that they are fair and consistent with all of their rules, regulations and policies in the workplace.

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