Everything you need to know about the causes of organizational conflict. Conflict is a psychological state of mind when people are in a state of dilemma whether to do or not to do a thing.
In organisational conflict, it may imply difference of opinion with persons or groups and sometimes they manage to show down and slow down other and plan strategies for that.
Conflict is an essential fact of organisational life. In fact, the very nature of an organisation guarantees the emergence of conflict.
Firstly, organisations consist of people with divergent personalities, perceptions, and values. Secondly, these people are put on jobs with contrasting features that impart unequal degrees of status and frequently foster competition.
Some of the causes of organizational conflicts are:-
1. Competition for Scarce Resources 2. Time Pressure 3. Unreasonable Standards, Policies, Rules or Procedures 4. Communications Breakdowns 5. Personality Clashes 6. Ambiguous or Overlapping Jurisdictions 7. Unrealized Expectations
8. Competition for Resources 9. Task Interdependence 10. Status Problems 11. Individual Traits 12. Inter-Relation-Dependence of Departments 13. Ambiguous Objectives and Goals 14. Individual Differences
15. Absence of Time Management 16. Lack of Accurate Forecasting of Eventualities 17. Employees Dissatisfaction 18. Poorly Defined Responsibilities, Authority and Role 19. Undesirable Demands of Trade Union / Workers 20. Poorly Defined System of Payment 21. Lack of Discipline and Rules and Regulation
28 Causes of Conflict in an Organization / Causes of Conflict in Workplace
Causes of Organizational Conflict – Competition for Scarce Resources, Time Pressure, Communications Breakdowns, Personality Clashes and a Few Other Causes
There are many potential sources of conflict.
Some of them are discussed below:
1. Competition for Scarce Resources:
In an organization, anything of value (funds, personnel and valuable information) can be a competitively sought – after resource. When competition for scarce resources becomes destructive, conflict can be avoided by increasing the resource base. For example more personnel can be hired when they are to avoid shortages in the future.
2. Time Pressure:
Time pressure, like deadlines, can increase the performance of an individual or reduce the performance by triggering destructive emotional reactions. Hence, while imposing deadlines, managers must understand and consider an individual’s capacity and ability to meet the set targets.
3. Unreasonable Standards, Policies, Rules or Procedures:
When policies, standards, rules, or procedures are unreasonable and unattainable, they lead to dysfunctional conflicts between managers and sub-ordinates. Therefore, managers must frame sound policies, rules and procedures and correct those policies and procedures that do not help employees achieve organizational objectives.
4. Communications Breakdowns:
Communication is a complex process. Barriers to communication often provoke conflict. When two-way communication is hampered, it is easy to misunderstand another person or group. Such misunderstandings have a negative impact on employee performance.
5. Personality Clashes:
People have different values and different perceptions of issues. A production manager, for instance, may be of the opinion that streamlining the products line and concentrating on a few products can make the organization more productive, while a sales manager may desire a broad product line that will satisfy diverse customer demands.
An engineer may like to design the best product regardless of market demand or cost considerations. It is very difficult to change one’s personality on the job. The practical remedy for serious personality clashes is to separate the antagonistic parties by reassigning one or both to a new job. Showing genuine concern for the ideas, feelings and values of sub-ordinates helps minimize such conflicts.
6. Ambiguous or Overlapping Jurisdictions:
When job boundaries are not clear, they often create competition for resources and control. A clarification of job boundaries and jurisdictions of various managers helps in preventing conflicts from turning into serious problems.
7. Unrealized Expectations:
When expectations are not met, employees feel dissatisfied. Unrealistic expectations can also result in destructive conflict. Open and frank communication with employees can help make people knowledgeable about what they can expect from their organization.
Conflicts can arise from other sources as well. For example, a superior’s autocratic leadership style may cause conflicts. Differing educational backgrounds of employees may also lead to conflict.
Causes of Organizational Conflict – Competition for Resources, Task Interdependence, Jurisdictional Ambiguity, Status Problems and a Few Others
Conflict is the existence of opposition or dispute and antagonistic or hostile interaction among groups or between persons. Conflicts are created by a variety of causes.
However, there are six major classes or conditions leading to conflicts:
(1) Competition for resources;
(2) Task interdependence;
(3) Jurisdictional ambiguity;
(4) Status problems;
(5) Barriers to communication creating misunderstanding and confusion; and
(6) Individual traits.
Many conflicts may cover more than one condition. Let us deal with these broad categories in brief.
(1) Competition for Scarce Resources:
Conflicts between the parties may develop when the resources such as budget funds, space, supplies, personnel, office services, etc., are scarce and therefore more important to the rival .parties. For example, two departments demand priority to utilise common office services like data processing or duplicating.
(2) Task Interdependence:
When the two parties or two departments are interdependent for supplies, information, direction or help and there is greater need to co-ordinate their activities, we may come across conflicts between them. For instance, conflicts may develop between sales and production, sales and purchase (in the case of wholesale trade), purchase and production, or between production department and research and development department.
(3) Jurisdictional Ambiguity:
Many a time, boundary or range of powers and duties may be unclear and we may come across overlapping responsibility. Under such circumstances, in absence of clear-cut and precise area of operation, conflicts may develop between two parties or departments. For example, the sales department wanted a new product design on the basis of latest customer needs.
But the production department tried to resist and gave excuses such as absence of necessary materials. However, the sales department was very keen and took initiative in finding the sources of supplies and also ordering the materials required for that new product design. This angered the production manager as the sales manager violated his departmental powers.
The conflict so developed continued and, as a result, many profitable orders were lost, order executions were delayed, defective lots were sent to~ customers and so on. In short, interdepartmental conflicts brought about heavy losses and adversely affected the reputation of the enterprise.
(4) Status Problem:
Status is the degree of respect and prestige a person is given in the status hierarchy. When members do not agree about status hierarchy, they are frustrated and become resentful. Each person tries to protect or improve his position and conflicts may develop due to status discrepancies. Line and staff conflicts are mainly due to status problems. Inequitable rewards, job assignments, working conditions and status symbols are other types of status conflicts.
We may have conflicts between persons receiving fewer benefits and those receiving better and superior benefits. A department of higher status would resent when it is called upon to abide by the instructions coming from a low- status department in an organisation.
(5) Insufficient and Defective Communication:
Inadequate communication prevents effective co-ordination of efforts and activities. Language difficulties and selective interpretation can create and develop misunderstandings of the messages. Conflicts due to want of proper communication or due to any communication gap or barrier can be reduced or even eliminated by effective communication net-work.
(6) Individual Traits:
When both the parties are dogmatic (with closed minds) and autocratic, they are bound to disagree and they cannot discover any common ground to arrive at a mutual agreement. Needs and values cherished by persons with initiative and drive for autonomy will always conflict with an authoritarian or autocratic leader. When members in an organisation have different social and political values, sooner or later conflicts are bound to develop.
There are mainly three interpersonal relationships found in an organisation among groups:
(1) Between peers,
(2) Between superior and subordinate and
(3) Between two or more groups or sub-units.
The groups may co-ordinate their efforts. The manager is the co-ordinating authority. The groups may indulge in competition which may be unhealthy or even unfair. The groups may develop conflicts and indulge in win- lose activities. Conflicts due to clash of interests and goals are bound to reduce efficiency of organisational goal achievement.
Management has to resolve the conflict, preferably in an earlier stage, and restore organisational health and operational efficiency. Hence, conflict management plays a vital role in business management and administration.
When there is divergence between the needs and goals of individuals and or groups, and the needs and goals of the organisation, we are bound to have frequent conflicting situations as the organisation will be unable to fulfil the needs and desires of employees on the jobs.
There is no inherent conflict between self-actualisation and more effective organisational performance. If given a chance, a man will voluntarily integrate his own needs and goals with those of the organisation. Internalisation is the most effective motivational device and it enables conflict management.
Internalisation means that managers have managed, motivated, and persuaded their way to a situation where the needs and goals of the subordinates and the needs and goals of the organisation coincide and are one and the same. Under high internalisation, the individuals find satisfaction in adopting the advocated views even in the absence of the advocate, i.e., the manager.
Internalisation assures harmony of interests, high productivity and strong organisational loyalty. It reduces labour turnover and absenteeism.
Argyris views, all organisation structures, schedules of responsibilities, rigidly defined chains of command, formal rules and regulations, closer control and many other aspects of classical or conservative organisation structure as the causes of organisational conflicts.
Such organisation structures frustrate personal needs for independence, autonomy, initiative, creativity, self-expression and self-actualisation. Self-actualisation is the desire to become what one is capable of being what a man can be, he must be. Under a tall organisation structure, frustrations on the jobs lead to personal dissatisfaction, conflict or even open subversion of the organisation.
A mature personality is independent, autonomous and future oriented.
The structure, process, and procedures of complex organisation based on bureaucratic models cause individuals to become, in a psychological sense, dependent children rather than independent, mature adults.
There is a basic lack of harmony between the needs of the mature individual and the demands of the formal mechanistic organisation. Hence, there is a fundamental conflict always existing between the demands of the organisation based on theory X or bureaucracy and the mature human personality.
Individuals demand freedom and independence. Organisation wants standardised and controlled human behaviour through procedures, rules, methods and operational controls. Individuals demand achievement through the use of personal abilities. But organisation forces them to conform to the standards of collective goals.
The search of individual for personal development is countered by demand of the organisation to perform a specialised task. The desire of the individual to look forward (i.e. toward the future) is neutralised by the need to fulfil planned performance of short-range period.
Causes of Organizational Conflicts – 14 Major Causes of Organizational Conflicts
1. Inter-Relation-Dependence of Departments:
In a business organization various activities / functions are divided into various departments. There is a specialisation work and there is inter relationship and interdependency of department, the departmental executives have to interact and communicate each other on variety of matters for the attainment of organizational objectives.
During this process there are the chances of difference of opinion, disagree on some matters, clashes friction and all this ultimately resulted into the conflicts which harmful to the organization.
2. Due to Scarcity or Limited Resources:
Wherever the resources are limited every departmental head trying to get maximum resources their respective departments and this may give rise to conflict. Moreover if there is unequal distribution of resources, conflict may be arisen. Even if there is any error is made distribution of resources indifferent operative areas may give rise to organizational conflict.
3. Ambiguous Objectives and Goals:
If the organizational objectives and goals are not clear cut and easily understandable conflict may arise and obstruct the smooth flow of work.
4. Individual Differences:
Very individual is differ from the other individual. Every employee possess a different personality traits and characteristic or features. This ultimately resulted in behaviour, conduct and attitude of the employees and may give rise to organizational conflict. Individual differences is one of the main causes of the conflict.
5. Absence of Time Management:
For smooth running of organisation and timely attainment of objectives, makes the organization profitable. If proper schedules are maintained for various activities the developmental executives may try to shift their responsibilities on one another and start blaming one another it gives rise to conflicts among departments.
6. Lack of Accurate Forecasting of Eventualities:
In modern times changes are taking place very fast in and around the business concern. The environment changes are indispensable and unavoidable in the world. If there is lack of accurate predictions of coming eventualities may give rise to conflicts in the organization. The adverse effects these eventualities creates, problems tension, clashes, friction, and conflicts among the people working in an organization.
7. Employees Dissatisfaction:
The employees may be dissatisfied due to number of reasons such as wrong placement, no promotion, poor wages and salaries, lack of leadership and motivation, demotion, transfer, changes in duties or responsibilities, unhealthy working conditions, lack of welfare facilities etc. Such conditions depressed the employers. The stress, strain, tension, depression, frustration will be found among the employees at work place causes conflicts for other organizations.
8. Poorly Defined Responsibilities, Authority and Role:
If the duties, responsibilities and authority of the employee is poorly defined, chaos and disorder may occur in the organization. If the role of the employee is also not clear, the role conflict is likely to occur.
9. Undesirable Demands of Trade Union / Workers:
One of the leading causes of organizational conflict is undesirable, unjustifiable demands of organizational conflict between the management and workers.
10. Lack of Communication:
If there is no proper communication between the employees definitely it gives rise to conflict among the employees. In the absence of proper communication network, misunderstanding, confusion doubts may be created in the mind of the employees which ultimately resulted into organizational conflicts.
11. Poorly Defined System of Payment:
The poorly defined system of wage and salary payment is one of the leading cause of conflicts among the employees at workplace.
12. Lack of Discipline and Rules and Regulation:
If there is no code of discipline, and formal rules and regulation for leaves, promotion, transfer, training, demotion, holidays may give the scope for chaos and disorder, irregularities, indiscipline among the employees which give rise to organizational conflict.
13. Faulty Performance Appraisal and Reward System:
If there is faulty or defective performance appraisal and reward system is adopted, it definitely give rise to conflict among the employees and management.
14. Poor, Imbalanced Authority / Power Distribution:
Whenever there is imbalance between authority and responsibility of the executives as well as employees give rise to conflicts. Moreover if there is authority hierarchy is not properly maintained there are chances of conflicts. The executives who gets more power may misuse it and conflicting situations may be arise.
“A policy or right of persons to decide how much information, what information and what information about themselves have to be disclosed to others”.
This definition implies that only essential information of individuals or of the organisations have to be disseminated to others in completing an agreement or task. Unnecessarily, all private information should not be disclosed.
Privacy will be of two types, viz.:
(i) Psychological and
i. Psychological Privacy is concerned with an individual’s inner urges and thoughts. Personal belief, plans, values, feelings and desires of the individual are considered to be psychological privacy aspects.
ii. Physical privacy relates to individual’s physical activities. The psychological privacy or the inner urge of an individual will be revealed by physical expressions. These expressions are essential to protect psychological privacy. Physical Privacy is governed by one’s own culture. For example, one cannot perform an absence function in public. Hence, physical privacy is respected for its own sake.
The right to privacy protects the personal interest of individual.
The activities that are private in nature and to be protected are as follows:
i. Certain personal information when disclosed causes harm to an individual. He may be embarrassed, or put into shame, or ridiculed or blackmail him. Such privacy aspect has to be protected. Privacy right ensures that others cannot access to such information.
iii. In case of people for whom we have affection, their good feeling about us should not be shaken by disclosing certain things about us which are not palatable to them. Privacy rights prevent such disclosures.
iv. Private rights protect the individuals from self-incrimination (guilty of wrong doing).
(i) It develops intimacy with others leading to friendship, affection and trust. This intimacy makes an individual to share personal information with intimates and with everyone.
For example – Information about the activities of an employee off the working hours will be collected which is relevant for smooth running of the organisation. This information also gives caution to employee that he/she should not involve in any activity after duty hours which hampers the organisational interest. Thus, relevant information concerning privacy should be collected to use it when employee trespasses.
The concerned person from whom the private information is to be collected has to express his/her acceptance for such collection. Person at the time of giving acceptance to collect information can do so only after confirming that the information will be used for the purpose for which it is collected.
Supposing the employees are provided certain facility such as becoming a member of a social club. The club, on admission, collects some private information of the person. Such information should not be misused by the club after the person accepts membership. Similarly, the member should not indulge in activities mentioned in private information, that is collected at the time of admission.
(c) Genuine Purpose:
The information collected should have some purpose and it should have legitimacy. The information so collected should provide some benefits to the person who provides information. Bank loan or insurance is the best example. When a person avails loan enjoys benefit out of it. Bank also collects information with the purpose of using it when the client defaults. Similarly, an employee may get additional incentive on disclosing some secret personal traits to top management.
Whatever the information collected should be accurate. Inaccurate information should not be collected. If collected, it has to be processed and rectified. Persons from whom the inaccurate information is collected has to be made known to that person before it is rectified.
Information collected should be fully secured by the organisation. Others in the organisation should not know about the private information of individuals collected by the organisation. In times of acquisitions and mergers, personal information of employees should not be revealed to new employer without the consent of employees who continue to work in the new firm.
The organisation has the primary responsibility to improve the quality of work on a sustainable note. Work life here refers to the time period that employees spends in an organisation. Quality means that whatever the work done in an organisation by a worker should match to the standard fixed by management and the management has to provide everything to employees to maintain quality in service rendered. Ensuring service quality by both employees and management is an overwhelming task.
Though maintaining quality of work life is formidable, certain guidelines can make the task more achievable. In this direction, contributors on management thought such as Edward Deming, Philip. B. Crosby, Joseph. M. Juran have given certain guidelines to achieve quality in all activities of the organisation including the working pattern of employees.
Deming gives 14 principles to achieve quality. He advocates continuous improvement. Crosby who is considered as pioneer of quality movement in the USA says, that quality can be achieved through the adaptation of integrity, systems, communication, operations and policies. Joseph. M. Juran emphasises that management has to adopt quality improvement programmes at two levels – (i) the organisation as a whole to achieve and maintain quality and (ii) the strategic planning by individual departments to control and maintain quality and linking this plan to organisational strategic planning.
Many organisations have adopted the quality guidelines of experts to improve and maintain quality of their products and services. This has improved and is improving the relationship between customers and the organisation.
Modern generation of workers are more enthusiastic in workplaces, as HRM programmes of the organisations induce them to work. Workers always look for quality improvement in their operations and they have to freedom to work. This is what “quality of work life” insists.
“Quality of work life is the degree of opportunity of workers to make decisions that influence their work situation. The greater the opportunity of workers to make such decisions, the higher the quality of work life is said to be”. (Tom Lupton, “Efficiency and the Quality of Life”, Organisational Dynamics).
This meaning of quality of work life prompts the workers to take the decisions that lead to the following:
1. Job for them will be challenging, interesting and make them to be more responsible.
2. They are recognised in workplace and rewarded suitably through fair wages and other incentives.
3. Work stations will be very congenial, safe and bright.
4. Organisations look after their employees in befitting manner.
5. Supervision of workers will be at minimal.
6. Jobs for employees are more secured.
7. Friendly relationship exists between co-workers and between various departments of the organisations.
8. Service quality of workers will be on a higher side as the whole atmosphere is filled with high morale.
Thus, quality of work life in organisations leads to the development of quality relationship with stakeholders. QWL motivate employees to work hard to increase productivity. Managements also, in turn, work for the welfare of employees and develop healthy relationship and deal fairly with all their stakeholders. They work for improving the general quality of life and build competitive organisation.
Cause # 3. Conformity Issue:
Conformity here refers to the performance of tasks by the employees as per the standards fixed by the employer. Similarly, the employer should deliver or fulfil the terms and conditions agreed upon at the time of appointment of an employee. Conformity aspect mainly refers here to relationship management and behaviour.
Conformity issue in an organisational backdrop involves developing altitudes, opinions and behaviours to match the attitude of the group in which the individual works or the expectations of the organisation. Every employee normally conform to the standard values or norms of the organisation to have a good relationship with co-workers and organisation.
Some degree of conformity is essential for organisations to function. Imbalance in conformity leads to conflict between employer and employees. Hence, while fixing standards of work, employer has to consider workable norms. Too much expectation leads to confrontation and develops unhealthy relationship.
Different organisations fix different values on conformity. This depends on size and structure of the organisation. In spite of fixing practicable norms or values, some individuals will be non-conformists and disturb the working of the organisation. Non-conformity to some extent is common in every organisation. There are organisations which fix higher values and norms to be followed by their employees. For example, military organisations expect a high level of conformity in the behaviour of their members. They are very strict regarding non-conformists and ruthlessly punish those who do not conform to their standards.
Non-conformists in organisations have to face problems. They are not liked by coworkers. Even the organisation will place such people in the last line as far as awarding incentives and special benefits. They are distinguished from conformists.
Conformity leads to loyalty and obedience. Loyalists implicitly follow the values and norms. Many a time, they have to work against their conscience. Obedience is a requirement in an organisation, and those who obey achieve strength and are liked by all. They become the trusted employees of the organisation.
Thus, conformity aspect tells that those who conform to the organisational norms develop a required behaviour and contribute for developing normal relationship.
Cause # 4. Job Enrichment:
Sound relationship exists between employees and management, when the managements motivate their employees to do better job. Paying salary for the job done by employee is a routine affair and it does not motivate employees to perform better. When additional motivators are incorporated into the job, employees are further motivated and perform the task to the organisation’s expectations. The process of introducing additional motivators into jobs to get better performance is called “Job Enrichment”. It makes an employee satisfied one.
“Job enrichment involves redesigning work to give employees more authority in planning their tasks, deciding how to complete their work and allowing them to learn related skills or to trade jobs with theirs”.
Many organisations have succeeded in achieving the organisational goals, after adopting job enrichment programmes. Job enrichment keeps employees happier and make them to stick on to the organisation for a long time. This also contributes for the maintenance of sound relationship between employer and employees. Following Table 22.1 shows the job enrichment aspects and the corresponding changes that are expected to derive.
Thus, the organisations have to provide opportunities for job enrichment, to keep the workers happier. This enables the organisation to have a sound relationship with employees.
Cause # 5. Discipline:
Discipline means training of the mind and character designed to produce obedience and self-control. Organisational discipline expects that the employee should have self- control about the adaptation of organisational norms. Any deviation from the norms or set procedure will attract punishment according to the degree of mistakes committed.
The focal aspect here is that employees when disciplined regarding work, will automatically gain the confidence of the management and it paves way for sustainable and good relationship. Employees are essentially pure and unpolluted. A teacher-student relationship exists in organisations. Organisation behaves in the manner a teacher behaves. A teacher monitors has/ her wards to see that wards learn the prescribed lessons.
In an organisational set-up, the manager (teacher) supervises the activities of his team members (students). Employees (Students) have to strictly follow the rules, regulations and work order (Job description) to produce the target work. The effectiveness and efficiency of work done depends on the degree of discipline (set work procedure) maintained by worker and managers.
Discipline plays a vital role in organisational development and growth. Employees have to be self-disciplined as far as work is concerned. Then only they can have identity with the work and grow fast.
Discipline also contributes for personal growth of the employee as well as the organisation. Disciplined workers become more work-oriented and develop a healthy relationship with other employees and management. Every successful organisation will have disciplined approach to the work.
Organisational discipline means the behaviour of workers and management. Every piece of work is proficiently carried out. Customers would like to have continuous contact with the organisation and this leads to brand creation. Thus, discipline creates healthy relationship with each and every individual connected with the organisation.
Cause # 6. Undue Control:
Employees have to work in an organisation as per the set standards, rules and procedure. But undue control of employee’s activities and choices leads to stiff atmosphere. Supervisors may unnecessarily harass workers. There may not be any valid reason. Such unreasonable harassment prevents employees from having unhealthy relationship.
The forms of undue control are:
(i) Make employee to work on unwanted jobs,
(ii) Job discrimination,
(iii) Preventing employee to get normal benefits, etc.
(i) Unwanted Job:
Supposing an employee is transferred without reason from the unit he/she is working happily to another unit where she cannot enjoy. While performing the new task. Similarly, encroaching on privacy of employees is an act of undue control.
(ii) Job Discrimination:
Job discrimination not on the basis of merit but on the basis of prejudice, is an act of harassment to control the employee. It is an adverse decision against an employee for an unacceptable reason. It may be racial or sexual or false stereotype (a generalized belief that one’s behaviour will confirm negative activity). This unethical decision will have a negative impact on the interest of the employee.
(iii) Prevention of Natural Rights:
Employees will have wage, certain incentives and benefits which go along with the job. Wage is the main means for an employee to satisfy his needs. Incentives such as health care benefits, educational facility to the children of employees and such other benefits are extended to employees. These are all natural rights acquired though contract of employment. Although employer acting as principal and employee as agent, they will have mutual respect.
Otherwise, organisation does not function in a harmonious way. Supposing an employee, who is honest and dedicated, is prevented from getting his wage and other incentives as a penalty for doing the job in his own way. The deviation of employee in doing the job may not be unethical. But his supervisor or manager may not appreciate the quality of work he does and finding a clumsy reason may penalise him. This undue control of manager of his team members will develop unhealthy situation and relationship between the boss and employee will not be good. Estrangement develops leading to conflict.
Thus, employer has the responsibility of looking after the welfare of his employees to have a harmonious relationship. He has to discharge his obligations such as payment of wages, creating good organisational climate, providing fair working conditions through studying and eliminating job risks, compensating for risk, informing workers of known risks, insuring workers against unknown risks, etc.
In the USA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established to look after wellness programmes of employees. In India, many legislations have been enacted to protect the interest of employees.
It is not enough that only employer should provide benefits to have good relationship. It is not a one-way approach. Employees also have to equally contribute to have a congenial atmosphere in workstations. Employee role is analysed in the following paragraphs.