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Top 3 Causes of Work-Related Conflicts

written by: Daniel Brecht•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 8/3/2010

Not all work-related conflicts have a bad ending; some in fact have lead to positive outcomes and improvements in the work place. In order to turn around a conflict in to something good for the worker and organization, conflicts must be worked out, discussed, and settled in a timely manner.

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    Not all workplaces experience the same types of work-related conflicts; and, not all people and workplaces deal with work-related conflicts (arguments, conflicting decisions, or differences) in the same way, or as promptly as others. One thing is for certain, there are work-related conflicts in and outside the work place. However unpleasant work-related conflicts can be, no person or work place should ignore them.

    For some people and work places they occur daily. The majority of today's conflicts in the work place are due to relationships. Work-family, work-employee, and employee-employee can all be common causes of work-related conflicts. Yet not all conflicts are bad. Work-related conflicts can be productive if they lead to change and improvements. Many times, however, they can be disruptive and lead to disputes and clashes between employers and employees.

    No one wants to have a full-blown conflict in the workplace. Therefore, work-related conflicts should be dealt with in a proper place and time, but not avoided, or it could be costly to an organization. Furthermore, unresolved conflicts could lead to several problems, like stress, frustration, and anxiety, or lack of motivation, performance, or loss of an employee. The organization could be at fault too, and an employee's complaint could escalate into a lawsuit if not settled; so, dealing with the conflict promptly could avoid such an outcome.

    Nowadays, more and more managers are handling work-related conflicts. Studies show that " up to 30% of a typical managers time is spent dealing with conflict." [1]

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    Common Types of Work Related Conflicts

    As mentioned earlier, there are typically two types of work-related conflicts: work-related and personal.

    Work-related conflicts often occur among co-workers and management. In fact, "research shows that 60-80% of all difficulties in organizations stem from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in individual employee’s skill or motivation." [2] There are conflicts that arise due to the organization structure, demands, and expectations. When this happens, workers feel pressured.

    Personal conflicts occur when there are disagreements, changes, and decisions either not liked or accepted. It often causes stress, anxiety, and frustrations within a work place. Conflicts may also arise from personality or style differences, and personal problems.

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    Common Causes of Work Related Conflicts

    With these different types of conflicts in mind, we can identify three common causes of work-related conflicts; work-family conflicts, work-employee conflicts, and employee-employee conflicts.

    1. Work-Family conflicts. The link between work and family. Conflicts tend to arise when employees are overworked and are asked to work longer hours. This has an effect not only on the worker, but on the family too. Spending more time at work and less time at home with family has stirred up several conflicts.

    According to U.S. reports, "90 percent of American mothers and 95 percent of American fathers report work-family conflict." [3]

    2. Work-Employee conflicts. The link between the employer and the worker. Conflicts tend to arise from opposing ideas, decisions, and actions at the work place.

    Many work related conflicts are caused by employees being told what to do, how to perform, to work longer and harder, accept more responsibilities, as well as to meet certain demands.

    A situation where there is a possibility of conflict between work and employee is during times of personnel evaluation. Periodically, employers will need to evaluate their workers to decide on promotions, raises, or even retention. A conflict could arise from a negative evaluation, when an employee does not receive a good progress report caused by their character, behavior, personality, or work conduct or performance. Possible conflicts from a negative report could include being put on probation or fired.

    Work-employee conflicts tend to occur when a worker has a tendency to being late, lacking motivation, performance, make continuous errors on the job, or disrespecting others (as co-workers, customers, management, or the boss).

    3. Employee-Employee conflicts. The link between employees. Conflicts between employees are personal, but they have an effect on others in the workplace as well. These conflicts happen when employees do not get along and are not able to work or confront each other. Conflicts between co-workers are unpleasant to see and are distracting to others in the workplace. They tend to lower workplace morale and productivity; they can affect workers' chance for promotion or worse, the retention of their job.

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    Getting Over Work Related Conflicts

    The best advice to get over any work-related conflict situation is obviously to try to work it out. Both parties must remain calm, and not say something that could come back to haunt them later (either on site or in court). Trying to work out a conflict, or to deal with it at least, is smart since there are no winners when there's a dispute. All conflicts can be worked out if they are discussed. Also, settling differences helps resolves work-related conflicts between an employer and a worker, or among co-workers.

    Getting over the causes of work-related conflicts will likely change or improve a situation at work. Dealing with conflicts promptly is the right choice for any work place. It also says a lot about an organization that can take care of its business and employee situations.

    In this period of economic crisis employees should try and cope with the pressure, stress, anxiety, frustrations, responsibilities, co-workers, and management, but if a serious issue arise, they shouldn't be afraid to bring it up in a constructive way.

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    [1] Centre for Conflict Resolution International (The Cost of Conflict):

    [2] The Virginia Department of Human Resource Management (Workplace Conflict Statistics):

    [3] Center for American Progress (The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict):