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Why some workplace conflicts escalate to complaints

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills published a report which has useful insight to help you manage conflict in your organisation.

  1. How employees approach resolving conflicts is affected by issues such as trust and the perceived likelihood of success of reaching agreement.  Managers who adopt strategies for resolving conflict based on collaboration and problem-solving are likely to engender trust and are more likely to be successful at resolving conflicts.
  2. How people perceive organisational justice in relation to how conflict is managed at work, effects the avenue people take to resolve their own conflict. While all three (below) are important, perceived procedural and interactional justice can compensate for low levels of perceived distributive justice.
    • Distributive justice, which refers to the perceived fairness of outcomes
    • Procedural justice, which refers to the perceived fairness of the procedures by which outcomes are determined
    • Interactional justice, which refers to the perceived fairness of interpersonal treatment.
  3. Inaction in response to discontent voiced by an employee is likely to exacerbate feelings of injustice. And clear explanations for unfavourable outcomes are seen as important, with the type of, and adequacy of, explanations mitigating against negative reactions.
  4. While economic factors –rewards from winning a case – do play a role in people deciding to make an ET claim (even though economic rewards are often not accurately estimated!), the influence of economic factors is not as strong as the influence of feelings of injustice and poor treatment.

Understanding the behaviour and decision making of employees in conflicts and disputes at work Daniel Lucy and Andrea Broughton, May 2011 BIS Employment Relations Research Series 119