What is the cost of conflict in the workplace?

LAST UPDATE ON June 28, 2023

Is your workplace often the center of conflict? Workplace conflict is unavoidable and more often, many workplace conflicts can seriously undermine organisations culture, employee relationships and overall quality of work. 

According to research from occupational health provider Health Assured, nearly 9 out of 10 (86%) workers regularly vent their anger and frustration at their co-workers. Conflict in the workplace caused by anger and frustration is more common than most people might think.

CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) found that “under half of employees (44%) experiencing conflict report that the conflict or difficult relationship has so far been fully or largely resolved.”

Conflict at workplace negatively affects our: 
  • Productivity and performance
  • Motivation
  • Commitment
  • Anxiety levels 
  • Mental health
  • Stress levels
  • Concentration levels
  • Engagement levels 


What happens when toxic behaviour and conflict issues moves online while working from home? 

Managers are often the first people to go to for issues of workplace conflict but toxic work environments are often created and exacerbated through leaders abusing their power. This can become an underlying cause of conflict and stress and if that’s the case, speaking with other supervisors you work with or escalating the issue to HR may be a better move. 

Manager expectations play a large role in setting work-life boundaries. A leader can create a toxic environment if they demand employees be online and available beyond agreed-upon working hours, like late into the evening or on weekends. Managers may also expect more from workers who no longer have to spend time commuting. 

Coronavirus: Asia not yet ready to work from home, SE Asia News & Top Stories - The Straits Times


While employee surveys can raise awareness of poor organisational culture, it’s ultimately up to senior leaders to heed their employees concerns and actually do something to improve on the issue. Managers should let workers take control of their time, West Duffy says. Leaders can communicate clear, reasonable expectations of when employees should be available, and they should also be careful about how and when they communicate these guidelines.

Working with people is the principle work that managers do, and it is the people component that generates the stress and can lead to burn-out syndrome, says Tim Taylor, director of leadership development firm Making Great Leaders. He explains: “The reaction may often be depersonalise, so that individuals in their team become ‘them’. They may approach the problem in an unfeeling or even callous manner. Then the blaming starts and conflict rises, a type of conflict that is destructive and unhealthy because it is emotionally confusing.”

” Stress in the workplace has serious consequences for the welfare of employees and ultimately for overall business, as research has shown clear links between stress, low productivity and staff retention rates.”


In order to deal with workplace conflict more effectively, managers have to acknowledge and recognise that the value they bring to the business is in their dealings with people. They also need to develop their self-awareness about the triggers and behaviour patterns that lead them to that first state of being emotionally over-extended. People that are taking longer to complete routine tasks, producing lower quality work, and strained working relationships between employees, are all signs of a workforce under pressure, and potentially affected by stress. 

In recognising or anticipating signs of elevated levels of stress, managers should encourage staff to talk openly about stress and conflict, and the challenges and barriers that exist within teams and outside them. These conversations should be constructive, work to share experiences, explore improvements that alleviate unnecessary stress that will bring everyone closer to achieving their goals. 

Personality clashes and stressful work environments can have a negative effect on personal well-being and emotional health, so perhaps a more worrying research finding was that 79% of employers admitted they found it difficult to deal with staff who struggle to control their temper. 

Conflict resolution conversations facilitated by a team leader will uncover problems and result in finding positive solutions. It is constructive to listen and acknowledge opposing ideas and points of view.

Stress management courses and certification are available on managing stress and wellbeing in the workplace that will equip managers with the tools they need to be comfortable in having open conversations with their team members. This will help leaders and managers to create a more harmonious and therefore less stressful work environment. 

“Emotionally, it’s healthier to put more energy focusing on yourself. As soon as we put energy into focusing on others, I think we lose, because we ultimately can’t control what they do.”