Cost of Workplace Conflict

Cost of Conflict – The Facts

Recent research indicates that U.S. businesses are paying billions of dollars annually due costs associated with workplace conflict. If you have workplace conflict at your organization, it is hurting your bottom line.  Can you afford to ignore these conflicts?

It’s more common than you might think.  More than half of Americans are dissatisfied with their work. A key reason for this dissatisfaction is their experience of workplace conflict such as abrasive behaviors, aggressive management and supervision, team fighting, and bullying.

Below I have itemized the predominant costs of conflict.  Each of these costs are YOURS, the employer’s. Each cost impacts your bottom line.

Conflict consumes valuable time and attention at your organization.

As a manager, you can spend as much as 30% of your work time dealing with workplace conflict. Your employees wish this time was spent stopping the conflict and improving things in the office.1

Conflict chases away your subject matter experts.

Your confident “stars” who are experts in their field will rarely stick around for prolonged abuse.  They would much rather go where they are appreciated and can focus on their work. The resulting “brain-drain” can be devastating for your company.2

Conflict scares away your up-and-coming leaders.

Your upcoming leaders are precisely the sort who won’t put up with this behavior. They are critical to the implementation of your business strategy and feed your top teams. They are your independent thinkers, autonomous creative types, and your highly productive follow-through people. Once you start losing your talent, you are left with bullying types who would rather fight than produce, and the people too fearful to either fight or produce.

Conflict creates employee turnover.

Your employees who feel abused or bullied often will escape rather than continue with conflict. Sometimes your employees may leave without having another job set up.3 This means that they would rather be unemployed then put up with your workplace experience filled with anxiety and damaging stress.  The majority of bullying targets (75%) stop the bullying by leaving or losing their jobs, despite being the ones harmed.4

Conflict saps commitment across your organization.

If your employees are targets of bullying-type behaviors, they seem like personal attacks to them because they ARE personal, very personal. It is difficult for your employees to focus on the task at hand when they are distracted by attacks that cross a line.  And how committed can your workers be to a job that makes them feel miserable about themselves?5

Conflict impacts your employees’ self-esteem.

Anxiety, depression, and fatigue from constant harassment can disturb even the most confident of your workers.  A daily regimen of abuse can build up over time, leaving the very people you depend upon exasperated, distracted, and defeated.

Conflict makes your employees sick.

About 45% of bullied targets have stress that negatively affects their health.6 Stress can cause your employees that are targets of abuse a number of symptoms, from lack of sleep and anxiety, to a weakened immune system that can make them more susceptible to colds, flu, and other illnesses. If the conflict at your organization is bad enough, it can lead to high blood pressure, psychological trauma, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Conflict harms your company’s reputation.

As a decision maker, you know that your company’s business is traded on its reputation. Word gets around fast if your company is distracted and not as productive as it used to be because of internal conflict.  A bad reputation not only affects your ability to win new business, it can stop the flow of new blood into your business altogether.  No one wants to work with, or for, an organization that eats its own.


  1. Thomas, K and Schmidt, W. A survey of managerial interests with respect to conflict. Academy of Management Journal, June 1976. []
  2. Hoel, H., & Einarsen, S. Shortcomings of anti-bullying regulations: The case of Sweden. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, in press, 2009. []
  3. Namie, U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby International, September 2007 []
  4. Namie, U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 2007 []
  5. Duxbury & Higgins, Work-Life Conflict in Canada in the New Millenium: A Status Report, 2003 []
  6. Namie, U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 2007 []