When conflict is avoided in the workplace the consequence can be devastating to an organisation, its culture and its employees. Performance levels and morale of employees involved decrease. Organisational productivity declines, while collaboration between employees and teams diminishes impacting the organisation's ability to identify solutions. Employee attrition rates can increase along with absenteeism and employee stress levels. But the impact of conflict avoidance is not restricted to the confines of the organisation itself, with long standing customer and supplier relationships also in jeopardy, potentially impacting the organisation’s financial well-being.
Conflict-averse leaders who avoid confronting the issues can leave a trail of hidden costs and demotivated employees as a result of a failure to act. Here are some of the costs and impacts resulting from conflict avoidance;
1 - Demotivated employees.
2 - Employee absenteeism.
3 - Increased stress levels.
4 - Lack of collaboration between employees and teams.
5 - Office politics and gossip.
6 - Formation of silos.
7 - Culture of mediocrity.
8 - Culture and tolerance of poor behaviour.
9 - Disillusion of management.
10 - Distrust.
11 - Decrease in quality.
12 - Decrease in service levels.
13 - Reduction of sales revenue.
14 - Fracturing of relationships with business partners.
15 - Increase in cost of doing business.
While there are different theories on conflict avoidance, Thomas-Kilmann suggests that even though an issue may eventually resolve itself, ‘hope’ is not a strategy and in general, avoidance is not a long term strategy. Conflict avoidance can buy time; however the human and financial cost of conflict avoidance in the workplace can be significant. High performing employees become disillusioned with management and seek opportunity elsewhere, leaving a workforce satisfied with mediocrity. Managers who avoid conflict begin to lose the respect of their employees, resulting in frustration and dissent from their direct reports. Customers seek alternative suppliers due to decreases in service levels and in doing so reduce the organisation's sales revenue. Relationships with business partners and suppliers become fractured, potentially increasing the cost of doing business.
Conflict avoidance can be present at all leadership levels within an organisation. Managers are often promoted into leadership roles due to technical competence but without the capability or skills to lead. While technically capable, their leadership and conflict management skills are ineffective. Rather than develop the manager with skills required or action their poor performance, the executive team also avoid conflict by either ignoring the issue or moving the manager to another department and therefore moving the problem. With conflict avoidance occurring at all levels, it becomes woven in the organisation's fabric and an acceptable practice.
Managers need to have the skills to lead including how to manage conflict effectively rather than avoiding it. When conflict is managed well, it can have a positive impact on the organisation by fostering collaboration, team work and improving overall performance.
The information contained in this publication is intended as general commentary and should not be regarded or relied upon as legal advice.