The Impact of Unresolved Workplace Conflict

Workplace conflict is an unsurprising occurrence in most professions. Conflicts are bound to occur whenever you have people from all walks of life collected in one place. This includes virtual or remote employment in addition to in-person work. It’s important to address conflict once it starts and come to an agreement before it impacts the whole workplace. 

The inability to resolve conflict in the workplace and find common ground and better understanding between clashing points of view, communication styles, differing opinions, or whatever the cause of the conflict can negatively impact company culture. While managing conflict is not always easy, it’s essential for the mental health and productivity of your workplace.

How Do Conflicts Start?

Everyone has different work styles, viewpoints, personalities, and communication methods. Having an array of people naturally leads to debates and arguments, which can sometimes fester and become the source of conflict. 

Some significant causes of workplace conflict can include:

  • Personality clashes
  • Poor communication or miscommunication
  • Ambiguous job roles
  • Unfair work distribution
  • Inadequate communication
  • Faulty management or incompatible leadership styles
  • Unclear policies and rules
  • Changes to work structure, such as quotas or salary issuance
  • Inappropriate behaviors like bullying 
  • Subpar training
  • Inability to increase rank or grow skills

Any or all of the above can lead to frustrations that can boil over. Depending on the situation, some coworkers can handle conflict independently, but other times a manager, HR professional, or even a business owner or CEO may have to step in. Often, task-based conflicts may not be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Most people likely have been in this position in one way or another. So, how does unresolved conflict impact the workplace?

How Does Conflict Impact Employee Perspective?

Employees being part of a conflict can cause tension and damage workplace relationships — even more so if the resolution process is drawn out or the issue isn’t resolved at all. This can have a lasting impact on the employees personally and professionally. 

If an employee felt they were not listened to during this conflict, their attitude may change regarding work. They could feel apprehension about coming to work, adding tension to the overall feel of the workplace. Their work ethic may not meet their usual standard because they don’t feel valued or respected. 

An employee who feels insulted, misunderstood, and not supported may express this in ways such as:

  • Loss of productivity
  • Missing deadlines
  • Increase absenteeism
  • Negative attitude
  • Low morale
  • Wasting of company time
  • Disengaged communication
  • Low-quality assignments
  • Resigning

This unresolved conflict may lead to multiple other arguments or confrontations. This can lead to the employees splitting themselves into “groups,” creating cliques, further damaging the atmosphere of the workplace and bringing stress to other team members. In severe cases, there may be verbal harassment, physical assault, or damage to company property due to high levels of frustration and anger. 

How Does Conflict Impact Business Perspective?

From a business standpoint,  unresolved conflict affects the business in evident ways. It creates a toxic work environment that breeds qualities such as:

  • Low motivation
  • Poor production
  • Poor quality work
  • Low morale
  • Lack of trust

This can cause a decrease in profits and expenditure of salary when quotas are not me, meaning companies need to make back the money being spent. If employees begin to resign, then work will not be able to be finished, or the extra work is placed on another employee’s shoulders. This would create a snowball effect of increased stress for that employee who has to work harder to compensate for the lack of staff, which could lead to their resignation. 

If the workplace is a service-based profession, unresolved conflict may be apparent to the customers. The atmosphere may be unwelcoming, giving off a feeling of unease, leading to customers not returning or not purchasing products. If this is a small business, this can damage the overall company’s reputation, which can lead to the downfall of a small business. 

There is also the possibility of legal trouble as well, because, in some cases, employees can take legal action. Depending on the situation, an employee can file for a “workplace dispute.” This typically occurs after the employee has tried to settle the conflict via a manager or human resources contact but has not had any resolution. 

A workplace dispute filing can occur due to issues such as:

  • Issues with salary or wage 
  • Violation of privacy
  • Harrasment or discrimination
  • Unjustified termination
  • Infringement on federal laws such as the Disabilities Act, Family Leave Act, or Medical Leave Act

For a company or business, legal action raises a few problems. It costs time and money to be involved in a legal battle. In addition, this may affect the other employee’s perceptions and cause ripples in the company.

How Can You Prevent Unresolved Workplace Conflict?

It’s near impossible, due to human nature, to prevent conflict altogether. Both employee and employer need to address conflict before it gets to the point where it deeply affects those involved. 

Effective communication is key to understanding each party which can be difficult when feelings and stress are high. As an employee, it’s essential to know how to be more transparent with your needs or concerns. By allowing each side to be heard with active listening, a middle ground through mediation can then be found. Confusion can lead to a continuation of conflicts, and there should be a clear plan of action or solution to these conflicts

Ideally, an employee in a leadership position, such as a manager, supervisor, or human resource worker, should have more experience with conflict management. Of course, each company is different, and this is not a guarantee that thorough training has been accomplished. Establishing an open door policy is one of the most important things to prevent unresolved conflicts. 

This is where a workplace environment promotes communication of concerns with management without consequence. This type of policy needs to have effective communication available — taking the right approach to communication in the workplace is crucial to get to the root of the issue. By achieving conflict resolution at the root, there is a minimal chance that it will occur again. 

Comfortable Workplace

It’s understood that most people, including employees and employers, want to work in a comfortable atmosphere. Unresolved conflict leaves a staggering impact both on the employees and the business. 

Preventing unresolved conflict is the key way to have a pleasant workplace where employees feel motivated to work. This type of workplace can increase creativity, productivity, and profit, which benefits everyone involved. It’s never too late to learn and improve communication to work towards an enjoyable workplace. 


SHRM: Managing Workplace Conflict | SHRM

National Library of Medicine: Conflict Management | NCBI

Ways to Resolve Employee Conflict at Work | Western Governors University