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Workplace conflict costs the UK £28.5 billion a year

More than one in three workers experience conflict at work at a cost of £28.5 billion per year in the UK, according to research by advisory group ReWAGE.

ReWAGE brought together datasets to estimate the cost of workplace conflict, amounting to £1,000 for every UK worker per year. 

An estimated 9.7 million employees experience conflict at work in the UK each year. 

This equates to an estimated spend of £120 million in informal resolution and early intervention, and £140 million on mediation.

More about workplace conflict:

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Conflict at work linked to mental health issues

A further £589 million is lost due to a drop in productivity due to conflict and around 9% of employees take time off work due to stress, anxiety and depression linked to conflict, leading to an overall loss of 15 million days per year.  

Richard Saundry, researcher at Westminster University and author of the study, said HR practitioners can play a key role in preventing and resolving conflict as quickly as possible.  

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “HR is well placed to encourage managers to resolve issues through informal discussion.  

“This can be done by guiding and coaching them through difficult discussions, building their confidence to address issues close to the ground. 

“If HR is too focussed on compliance and procedure, managers will be more likely to hide behind process or avoid issues altogether.” 

Other contributors to the billions lost in workplace conflict are resignation and redundancies. 

Saundry warned that there are high costs to people leaving their employers due to conflict. 

The study estimated 485,800 employees resign each year as a result of conflict.  

Costs of recruitment, induction training and lost productivity amount to over £30,000 per employee, with a total estimated cost of £11.9 billion connected to resignations and £10.5 billion to dismissals in UK workplaces.  

Sundry said: “Some HR practitioners see managing people out of the organisation as a neat and efficient solution to conflict.  

“However, this research shows that the largest costs of conflict are connected with ending the employment relationship. Therefore, HR practitioners need to refocus on repairing and restoring employment relationships wherever possible.” 

Around one in five of all UK employees who experience conflict do nothing about it, while two-thirds of those who resign as a result of being involved in conflict do so without first discussing it with their line manager. 

Fiona McKee, founder of HR consultancy The HR Practice, said employers must create an environment of trust where employees feel safe to speak up about any concerns they may have.    

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “Ensuring there are various methods of communication with the management teams and HR is essential.   

“This might be a regular town hall meeting where employees have the opportunity to ask questions and have these questions answered honestly. 

“In addition, it’s important that managers offer regular one to ones with employees as this will give employees the opportunity to discuss concerns in a safe environment.” 

McKee said HR must be proactive in their approach to workplace conflict. 

She added: “HR should be visible and approachable to employees and in the event that an employee feels they can’t discuss conflict with their manager, the employee should know who to contact in the HR team.  

“Regular engagement surveys will also help surface any concerns but as this is anonymous it can make it very difficult to address.  

“However, it will give an indication of potential problems and can become an area of focus for both the managers and HR. 

“Overall, the more opportunities for communication, the less chance there is of employees not speaking up about any conflict or issues they may be experiencing.”