The cost of workplace conflict in a tight labour market

What do labour market statistics have to do with workplace conflict? In August 2019, CBC reported BC’s unemployment rate was the lowest in the country. The lowest unemployment rates for Canadian cities are in Vancouver and Victoria.

Conflict left unaddressed causes more than discontent. When workplace conflict boils over, employees become unfocussed, stressed and even ill. When the day’s work becomes an ordeal in navigating choppy waters, employees aren’t productive, often calling in sick and using spare time to look for another job.

For managers dealing with disharmony on their teams, the temptation may be great to allocate blame, dismiss “the problem employee” without cause and find someone who is a better fit.

What are the costs of turnover in a tight labour market? Whether employees leave on their own or are walked out the door, in BC they are likely to find another post quickly. But what will happen in your workplace? The underlying issues that led to the person’s departure won’t have been dealt with. With unemployment rates. It will take a while to fill the vacant position. Your first and second choice candidates may get snapped up by other employers before you can make an offer. Or you may make an offer an interested candidate only to find out their present employer offered a raise and perks they could not refuse.

In the meantime, your other employees have been shouldering the weight of extra duties for weeks or months and become stressed, ill and unproductive too.  And just when your new employee is finally settled into the workplace, another employee announces their resignation because they find your workplace too stressful.

Leaders in workplaces of all sizes need tools to identify and address conflict on their teams. Ignoring conflict and hoping it goes away can lead to a revolving door of costly employee turnover that can be tough to recover from. Start by recognizing that if you operate in BC, which has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, investing in effective conflict resolution training and facilitation or mediation in your workplace may be a necessity. Future blog posts will dig further into different ways of addressing workplace conflict.

Introducing Knapp Resolutions

In 15 years as a civil litigation lawyer, I have learned a lot about conflict. I have seen the inside of more disputes than I can count. Whether the parties were business partners, contractors and suppliers, parents and children, siblings, employers and employees, lenders and borrowers, they all felt hurt, stressed and drained by the litigation process. The disputes I dealt with in my law practice were almost always about people and relationships. While there was almost always money in the mix as well, the real crux of the dispute had to do with people’s feelings about something that had happened.

Maybe it was a long term business, family or workplace relationship. Or maybe what you might think of as more of a commercial relationship involving lenders and borrowers or contractors or suppliers. But still, what was really behind the dispute was that something had gone wrong and people didn’t have a way to talk about it effectively or a process to help them to resolve it.

When the problem could not be resolved, the people did what people do – and called a lawyer. And the lawyer did what lawyers do, which is to use the legal process that we have in Canada. Our legal system is designed as an adversarial process in which each side presents its strongest case and a neutral third party makes a decision about who is right. The problem with that system is that most people would prefer a speedy resolution based on a decent amount of good information. Most people don’t need to get to the bottom of exactly what can be proven with evidence on balance of probabilities in order to solve their problem.

Most people want to be able to explain their side of the problem, feel listened to, get a better understanding of what happened and have some help in sorting out a solution. Most people want to negotiate a solution they can live with and feel that there was a fair enough outcome so they can move on with their lives. As a lawyer I had a resolution focus and did my best to work with opposing counsel to craft resolutions that worked for everyone.

Sometimes a Court process is needed – and we are fortunate to have a strong judicial system in Canada. But a lot of the time, especially when the dispute is one between people or businesses, a different conflict resolution process is needed.

After 15 years on one side or the other of those disputes, I am focussing my efforts exclusively as the neutral person who helps people have the conversations they need to have in a process that is designed for their needs to help them solve their problems and move forward. I am passionate about conflict resolution and I am pleased as punch to introduce Knapp Resolutions.

Think a mediator might be able to help your situation? Contact Knapp Resolutions to learn more.