Leaders may expect some discord and unhappiness among staff as more countries return to a ‘normal’ state. Many people are not prepared for the rising number of workplace conflicts.
The pandemic has brought out new patterns in conflict between employees and workplace mediators. Different people are reaching out to each other and new issues are emerging. And what they are saying is changing too. These disputes are increasing in frequency, especially as employees return to work after being reluctant to raise issues remotely or during Covid’s early days. Leaders can better understand the larger themes of workplace conflict by looking at hundreds of Covid-era mediations.
Organizational conflict and organization
One theme that has emerged in workplace conflict over the past 18 months is that employees are more at odds with their organization. Many employee-employer conflicts have been a major theme in Covid. These disputes are often driven by changes in working life, such as pandemics. Recent concerns expressed by Apple employees about ‘rigid hybrid working rules’ and Google’s staff reportedly resentful about a “two-tier” remote working plan. This theme will likely continue as organizations attempt to get employees back to work.
It is interesting to think about why staff are more at odds with each other. The pandemic has changed the attitude of many people towards work. Some people feel the pandemic has caused a shift in priorities. They are now more focused on their dreams and needs. Others feel the way they were treated during the pandemic affected their perception of their employer. Some staff feel more empowered to pursue a new career or hybrid work. Either way, they will walk. This has prompted some economists to predict the’Great Remembrance’.
Conflict within teams
Many mediators and coaches have noticed an increase in team mediations over the past 18 months. Others have been driven by pandemic-related issues such as colleagues not adhering to safety protocols or social distancing. Other issues are indirect, like team behavior on video calls.
There has been more conflict between teams due to diversity. A recent survey conducted by The Workforce Institute found that 83% UK employees feel their colleagues are not being heard equally or fairly. There are tensions among different age groups. Gen Z and Millennials have different expectations about how they want their lives and their work. This can lead to friction between older colleagues who are used to doing things differently. This area will need to be a constant focus due to flexible work patterns and the rise in flexibility.
Other underlying themes can also contribute to team conflict. Managers are still under great pressure. This includes managing remote teams and dealing with hybrid work or a return-to-work. Line managers are often unable to resolve conflict within their teams. A recent report by Acas supports this finding. It found that 43% of employees reported that they had resolved the conflict with their manager, union representative or HR.
Individuals and conflict
Conflict has been caused by feeling overwhelmed and overworked. Additional at-home care responsibilities have also contributed to the problem. In addition, there have been more disputes regarding mental health since the pandemic. This is because existing mental issues were exacerbated by isolation and working conditions as well as the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
This is supported by wider social shifts. As they see others speaking out on social media, more people are now speaking up. The recent Netflix controversy , in which workers were allegedly ‘griping about their bosses’, has shown that workers are also speaking out more openly. Staff are also more aware of their mental health and openly discuss it at work.
No matter what perspective conflict may be viewed from, the common theme is that employees speak up more. This is true whether they are working with colleagues, in a team, or voicing their opinions to their bosses. Conflict is often seen as a negative thing. However, it is only through speaking up that people, teams, organizations, and organizations can innovate, grow, and inspire others. Perhaps the only silver lining to the pandemic is the opportunity for leaders to help those in conflict and to find solutions in seemingly impossible situations.