My mum always told me: the most difficult thing about the workplace is not the work itself, but the relationships. Indeed, according to a study conducted in 2008 in Europe, the US and Brazil, 85% of employees at all levels experience some degree of conflict.
If conflict is not dealt with as it arises, months or years of tension and unspoken conflict will take a toll on teamwork, and can eventually degenerate into an open altercation. I have even witnessed a situation in which years of frustration, lack of understanding, and unspoken tension ended in moral harassment charges. Burying your head in the sand is never a solution.
So, here are 8 signs of underlying conflict you should pay attention to:
1. Underperforming team members
Workgroup conflict is a huge demotivator: when people are not happy with the work environment, they tend to focus less on their work. If one or several team members are underperforming, being reluctant to do their job, or missing project deadlines, you can be sure that something is off in your team.
Worse still, underperforming team members can aggravate tension among your teammates. Indeed, if one of our peers is lagging in terms of productivity and effort, we tend to feel resentful towards them and the manager who is failing to hold them accountable.
2. Lateness and absenteeism
When there is conflict in the workplace, employees usually feel like being anywhere else. They tend to come in late, take long breaks to avoid getting back to work, and call in sick more than usual: 25% of workers admit that conflict avoidance has led to their own absenteeism or illness.
Anyone can be late now and then. But if it becomes an everyday occurrence, then you should broach the subject with your teammate, and give him or her the opportunity to explain. Beware though, this doesn’t apply to parents of newborn babies.
3. Abnormal sick leave
Conflict in the workplace is an huge source of stress. If left to fester, this stress can cause a variety of illnesses and medical conditions: increased rates of heart attack, hypertension, and even burnouts. Indeed, according to a study conducted among employees in North America in 2016, 31 percent of respondents reported that work relationships were a source of stress.
4. Dysfunctional meetings
Do staff meetings end up turning into gripe sessions instead of brainstorming sessions? Are there some people who always seem to dominate the conversation while others appear annoyed or distracted?
If team members are not showing up to meetings, if they are reluctant to participate, or if they display a critical, sceptical or sarcastic attitude during a meeting, consider this a red flag that something is going on in the team.
5. Lack of cooperation and exclusion
Teammates who are reluctant to work together are probably having some interpersonal problems. Conflict can even bring people together in factions against individuals they see as causing problems in the workplace. Behaviors such as sitting in cliques at coffee or lunch breaks, or ‘secretly’ arranging gatherings to which a few specific people are not invited, should warn the manager that something is off within the team and make him or her react quickly to avoid escalation.
6. Disrespect and gossip in the workplace
Intense conflict makes us see others as undeserving of our respect. Being rude to each other, rolling one’s eyes, and turning away while someone is speaking are signs that conflict is brewing. Likewise, gossip and criticism can only lead to animosity and should be addressed.
This kind of behaviour is actually considered to be a subtle form of harassment. It can lead to anger and fear among teammates, but management often doesn’t recognize it until pre-litigation.
7. Organizational exodus and resignation
If staff turnover is high, whether it be due to resignation or transfer requests, you can bet that there is a reason. Over 30% of workers state that interpersonal issues have led to someone leaving the organization. Don’t underestimate how costly employee turnover is for the organization. Given the cost of recruitment, including training a new employee, paying other employees involved in the hiring and training process, severance pay, and the loss of investment involved in losing an existing worker, replacing an employee actually costs 150 to 200 percent more than the original employee’s salary and benefits.
8. Formal complaints
If unresolved, conflict between employees can lead to workmates filing complaints and holding grudges against each other. And rest assured that investigations, disciplinary proceedings and adjudications don’t bring people together - they just drive people further apart.
Whether you’ve noticed some of these signs or not, you should always strive to keep the lines of communication open between you and your teammates and encourage them to come to you with any difficulty they may encounter - personal and professional. Unaddressed conflict will always prove more costly to the organization than a few hours spent trying to resolve it early on.
In the next article, we will provide some of the solutions that can prevent or resolve a crisis in the workplace. Subscribe to our newsletter and receive the article directly in your inbox (and only our articles).