Workplace conflicts costing UK businesses billions


From genuine differences of opinion through to ill-timed banter, microaggression and right up to the fireworks of a full-blown clash of personalities, conflict has always been a feature of the workplace.

To a certain extent friction is unavoidable, and even beneficial, as the change and innovation required for organisations to thrive will always create a degree of disaccord. But when conflict arises from matters secondary to the business mission, reaching endemic or even toxic levels, the toll hits staggering and unnecessary heights.

A new report from the UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) found that in the year prior to the pandemic, workplace conflict cost employers £28.5 billion.

Most of those costs, some £14.7bn, came from resignations, absences and presenteeism. Staff turnover was the single biggest expense with the total cost of ending employment – either via resignation or dismissal – and bringing in replacements totalling £2.6bn.

Acas defined conflict as everything from informal, formal and legal processes, with costs including those from sickness absences and resignations. On that measure, some 10 million people experienced some kind of workplace conflict in 2019.

As a result, more than half of them suffered from stress, anxiety and depression, almost 900,000 took time off from work, close to half a million resigned and more than 300,000 were dismissed. That’s a tremendous amount of churn putting a huge financial burden on employers while also causing immense strain to affected employees.

While anecdotal evidence suggests Covid-19 has suppressed workplace conflict during the past 12 or so months, the shift back to office-based working in the coming weeks will most likely lead to an increase in discord.

It would be foolhardy to believe that the return to some semblance of “normal” will be a seamless transition. Indeed, it could be that run-ins become more common as many staff may feel ill at ease, at least initially.

Employers need to implement what Acas chief executive Susan Clews has described as “conflict competence”. Early intervention is the key to stopping the escalation of relatively low-level friction into an irredeemable situation.

Emphasis should be put on repairing relationships rather than establishing blame, and it’s crucial that such support can be accessed easily by everyone within the organisation, as a positive result at this stage is far more likely than after matters reach expensive and time-consuming formal procedures.

Search the latest jobs at

Posted on May 27, 2021