Recent Study Analyzes Use of Strategic Conflict Management in the Workplace

Summary of:

Nash, D. and Hann, D., “Strategic conflict management? A study of workplace dispute resolution in wales” (2019). ILR Review Volume 5 Issue 2. 411-430.

Background & Theory:

Past research has found that utilizing strategic decision-making within the area of conflict management is often driven by a desire to improve organizational efficiency, pair sustainable solutions with conflictual problems, and avoid litigation. Outside of simply resolving workplace conflicts for the sake of resolution, some organizations may decide to implement conflict management tactics with a strategy and end-goal in mind. This research seeks to examine these organizations and decipher what drives an organization to pursue strategic conflict management.

Question(s):

Research was completed to answer the following questions:

  1. Is the use of different conflict management mechanisms related to organizational demographics like size, sector, age, and nationality?
  2. Do organizations use inter-employee conflict management mechanisms to proactively limit the role of unions in employee relations?
  3. Is the implementation of strategic conflict management tactics associated with HR strategies such as high-performance work systems?

Methods:

Data were collected via surveys distributed to 1,800 firms across Wales. From these firms, 352 responses were considered valid. Respondents were asked questions in relation to three categories: individual conflict with the organization (individual conflict), group conflict with the organization (collective conflict), and conflict between individuals or groups of employees (inter-employee conflict). The survey also included questions about the current organizational policies and practices being used. Specifically, it asked respondents to note the following: whether their organization had no formal written procedures for conflict management, had written procedures for individual and collective conflict, but not inter-employee conflict, or had written procedures that included all types of disputes.

Results:

After analyzing data, results showed that approximately 57% of respondents had no formal written procedures for handling conflict. It was found that the organization’s size and nationality did not correlate to its conflict management style, but the organizational sector did. Over a quarter of respondents working in the service-sector reported having inter-employee dispute resolution policies. However, only 8.7% of respondents working in the manufacturing sector reported having these policies. The organizational demographic of age was also significant, with results showing that organizations under 10 years old and over 20 years old had inter-employee conflict management policies.

In addition to these demographic findings, it was found that organizations with specialist HR functions were more likely to have inter-employee conflict management procedures. Specifically, the use of HR strategies like high-performance work systems was more likely to be found in organizations with inter-employee dispute resolution procedures. It was also found that innovative organizations with specific inter-employee dispute procedures were three times more likely to mark that ‚Äúpreventing unions from influencing the organizations‚ÄĚ was important to the organization. Finally, results indicated that organizations that had a formal written inter-employee conflict resolution policy were more likely to utilize alternative dispute resolution practices such as mediation, early use of a conflict resolution firm, open-door policies, employee advocates, and personal development planning.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away this key insight:

  • This research demonstrates that there is a strong link between the use of HR strategies like high-performance work systems and anti-union strategies with conflict management practices. The results of this research suggest that organizations can implement conflict management mechanisms alongside HR strategies with a strategic end-goal in mind.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: Integrating conflict management policy within existing HR strategies may be a helpful approach for assimilating conflict management practices into the structure of the organization. Doing this allows for the creation of a preventative approach to resolving employee conflict.

For Everyone: Establishing ways to preventatively handle conflict at work is a helpful way to personally approach workplace conflict resolution. Checking in with HR to see how conflict management practices can be established may be helpful for you and your organization in the long run.

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