Happy workers posed at the starting line

Stirring the Pot, Part 3: Leading a Workplace Culture That Thrives

This is Part 3 of “Stirring the Pot,” a three part series on leadership for a positive workplace culture. If you have not already, please read Part 1 and Part 2.

A lot of company leaders would say they don’t have the time and money to undertake the kinds of efforts needed to minimize employee conflict. Why can’t people just get along and do their jobs?  In today’s diverse and global workplaces and markets—environments that help drive innovation and stimulate growth—the reality of differences exists.  When companies say they don’t have the time or money, or don’t want to invest in “soft skills” training, I simply chuckle—they don’t realize how much money they are already spending and don’t even know it. Yes, these kinds of conversations take time, energy and effort, but here is what it’s already costing them by doing nothing [1]:

  • U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week in 2008 dealing with conflict.
  • Which amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours, based on average hourly earnings of $17.95,  the equivalent of 385 million working days.
  • So putting it more simply, internal conflict costs employers $50.96 per week per employee, or 2,613.20 per year.
  • When you have ten employees dealing with conflict, your conflict is costing about $26,132.00 annually.
  • Over five years, with conflict between just ten employees, your company has lost $130,676.

As a workplace mediator, coach and trainer, I see these kinds of conflicts playing themselves out over and over again. It seems there are a lot of pockets of $100K floating around in organizations, and the bigger the organization, the more you can multiply this number.  This is time not spent doing the job employees were hired to do, and instead, gossiping, protecting turf, retaliating, recruiting people to one side or the other, planning defenses and navigating the drama. Talk about a management nightmare! The cost of intervention around these types of issues doesn’t even begin to approach what companies are already paying, getting little in return.

So, what can employers do? The research, time and time again, point to a five key factors:

  1. Pay attention to personality clashes—it is just too costly to ignore them.
  2. Address differences in communication styles and conflict management styles. Equip people to deal with generational differences, values and approaches to communication. Educate people around cultural and gender differences. (Yes, men and women DO communicate differently.)
  3. Hire the right leaders, not just “managers!” Too often people get promoted based on technical skills or rewards in their career path with little consideration for their people management skills. These types of managers then become our “bad bosses” (which is the topic of my next blog post). Bad bosses negate work benefits, and good bosses lead employees to increased revenues.
  4. Invest in leadership training, bringing up the bright and talented while equipping them with the people management side of things. Holding leaders and managers accountable for a motivated and efficient workforce is the key to making miserable employees not so miserable—and thus more productive.  Use training, coaching and monitoring to ensure that managers are achieving this.
  5. Commit to establishing a positive workplace culture where each and every employee, at every level, is held accountable for addressing conflict at the earliest level possible and for contributing to a positive workspace. This means teaching, and refreshing, them with effective communication and conflict management skills with emotional intelligence so that physically and psychologically safe work environments can thrive, not just survive.

YOUR PRESENCE matters in how you connect. Your presence matters in how you listen. Your presence matters in how you engage! Find your voice. Claim your leadership today!

  1. Consulting Psychology Press, Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness it to Thrive, CPP Human Capital Report, July 2008.

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