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Gill Dix: Mind the gap(s)

Friday 15 July 2016

Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas discusses her thoughts on the launch of a new book on workplace conflict in Britain.

Gill Dix Gill Dix

Gill Dix is Head of Strategy at Acas.




There is a lot of talk of 'gaps' in a new book launched this week. Don't get me wrong 'Reframing Resolution - Innovation and Change in the Management of Workplace Conflict'* paints a comprehensive picture of workplace conflict in Britain and gives a unique insight into the cause of conflict and possible solutions. Rather, the gaps relate to the way conflict is handled, and how it's perceived in the workplace.

There is a 'representation gap' caused by eroding levels of employee representation at work. This is worrying as reps are often the glue between managers and staff, particularly in conflictual situations, offering early interventions that can help take the sting out of potential disputes.

Then there is the 'confidence gap' that many line managers report. Whether this stems from a genuine fear to tackle difficult conversations, or lack of support and  training, many opt for a formal rather than an informal route to conflict resolution.

The book draws heavily on research and analysis, and not surprisingly perhaps, it also identifies some important 'research gaps'. For example, there is need for more evidence on:

  • the cost of conflict
  • conflict that lies beneath the surface but can nonetheless be damaging to the workplace, and
  • more ideas on the 'resolution gap' - creative ideas for addressing conflict inside the workplace.

And finally, there is the yawning gap. This is the gap between perception and reality - the unwillingness on the part of many employers to accept that conflict is a problem at all.

Conflict is a feature of the playground, marriage, partnerships and friendships and, as Brendan Barber said in his introduction to the launch of the book, it is an inherent feature of employment relations.

The issue is not whether it exists, but how it is managed (ideally proactively, sympathetically and with creative strategies), and how disputes are resolved (hopefully in a compassionate and cost effective way) that matters most.

It's time we accept that conflict is a feature of work, recognise the true cost it causes to organisations, the economy and to individual wellbeing, and identify solutions to fill some of the gaps.

*'Reframing Resolution- Innovation and Change in the Management of Workplace Conflict', eds. R Saundry, P Latreille, I Ashman, Palgrave McMillan, 2016.

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