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Do workplace conflicts make you sick? 2x5 recommendations for action

Updated: Apr 27

More and more companies are trying to attract employees with special benefits: organic fruit, yoga, childcare and dog-friendly offices, to name just a few. But there are still few structured measures taken by companies to prevent conflicts and bullying and thus create a healthy working atmosphere for the psyche. This has drastic consequences for employees and companies alike.

Conflicts in the workplace

Study shows economic impact

A recent study from Switzerland shows the serious connection between conflicts and sick leave: 57% of psychologically-related incapacity to work arise from conflicts at work. Mental health-related downtime lasts an average of almost 7 months and leads to full-time sick leave in 95% of cases. This data comes from a representative study by WorkMed on behalf of the SWICA health insurance fund, based on 1,350 daily sickness benefit dossiers from mentally ill employees.

In Austria, the Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs reports the proportion of mental illnesses at 16.6% (BKK Health Report, 2018), with the Upper Austrian Chamber of Labor observing a doubling of the number of people affected in the last 10 years. Based on this data and Swiss study results, around 40,000 people in Austria would be affected annually, with 11 million days of sick leave.

Who is affected?

Workplace conflicts can occur in any industry, regardless of the type of job. There is no specific industry that is particularly prone to conflict, as the causes can be diverse and depend on the individual working conditions, the corporate culture and the personalities of the employees. However, conflict may be more common in industries with high workloads, strict hierarchies, or strong teamwork. Managers cannot escape this any more than employees can. We are all affected by it sooner or later. But not everyone is able to deal with conflicts equally.

What measures can you take yourself as an employee?

As an employee, you are directly affected by conflicts. Now it's not just about making your point of view clear, but above all about not suffering personal harm. Otherwise, if the escalation progresses, health problems may occur. Here are 5 tips on how you can face the situation:

  • Find a balance to the stress and try to concentrate on other topics. Don't let conflict dominate you. This can work in very different ways. I myself have had very positive experiences with running. But it can also be a new task that you enjoy. Consciously use a counterweight.

  • Keep a logbook and write down your personal thoughts and feelings. Write yourself freely.

  • Find people who will listen to you. However, be careful not to form roped parties, as this will lead you straight into the escalation spiral. Avoid people who “talk like you want to.” Surround yourself with people who give you positive energy.

  • Discuss the situation with those involved in the conflict. They may not be aware of the implications from their personal perspective. Become the master of the situation and suggest an arbitration procedure. Don't wait too long.

  • Actively request help from your superiors or contact the employee representatives. Don't retreat by thinking you alone are responsible.

How can employers take precautions?

As a manager or employer, you are called upon to take care of your employees, and this is not just about optimizing the profitability of the company you represent. We all have an ethical and societal responsibility here. Here are 5 simple principles on how you can create an open conflict culture:

  • Employees feel guilty when they bring up a conflict. Openly admit to your employees that conflicts can and may arise.

  • Look and actively ask questions. Create a climate of trust. First build a bridge between the employees and you and only then build a bridge between the employees.

  • Allow conflicts, but do not allow them to grow and escalate. Always see this as an opportunity for the company.

  • Train your managers to conduct conflict discussions correctly. My colleague Annette Behrendt will go into this in more detail in the next blog post.

  • Give employees tools to resolve conflicts (e.g. a contingent of mediation support).

Support from companies and our own resilience are becoming increasingly important if we want to work happily and avoid conflicts in the workplace.

Author: Jürgen Dostal

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