Blog

3 October 2021

Reducing Workplace Conflicts with AI-powered Tools

Katrina Hung, AI Research Consultant

A national survey recently revealed that 4 in 10 employees in the UK reported that they have experienced interpersonal conflict at work. Employee disputes can create significant time and cost burdens for enterprises, stemming from decreased productivity, low staff morale, emotional stress and health problems for employees, work disruptions and personnel turnover. Around 874, 000 employees are estimated to take sick leave as a result of workplace conflict each year, at an estimated cost of £2.2 billion to employers.

Overall, it is estimated that the cost of workplace conflict to UK organisations amounts to approximately £28.5 billion or £1,000 per employee. The global pandemic seems to have had an impact.

In 2020, 44% of human resource professionals in the UK reported intensified conflict volatility in the workplace. This post considers how AI can help managers detect workplace conflicts early and intervene when necessary, through early signalling of risks, conflict-resolution training, and more transparent and fairer conflict resolution.

Early signalling  

Work place conflicts can result from personality differences, differences over work methods, poor communication or misunderstandings. Conflicts can manifest in varying ways, including non-cooperation, insults or bullying. A third-partyconciliation service reported having received over 20,000 calls on harassmentand bullying at wor,but many had been ‘too afraid to speak up’ about it in the workplace.

This suggests that whilst zero-tolerance policies be in place, employees can be reluctant to make use of it. This gives rise to budding conflict and dissatisfaction, where managers may not learn of tensions until they have escalated, with impacts on the employees’ mental wellbeing and workplace performance.  

AI tools can help to provide early signalling of conflict risks. Such tools can assess the risks from internal communications and present findings in near-real-time on a customisable dashboard to notify the relevant personnel. The accuracy of these assessments increases over time as more data become integrated.

Conflict resolution training 

Data accumulated from AI analytics can enhance conflict resolution training for managers. Training is valuable because conflicts can be most effectively resolved when workplace conflicts can be resolved promptly within the organization, without requiring intervention of third parties.  

AI tools can shed valuable light on the nature and causes of past disputes, which can help managers make self-assessments to understand their conflict-management styles, for instance, to minimize the use of passive-aggressive language or remarks in emails. This can contribute to creating a workplace culture where proactive conflict management is valued.  

Workplace mediation  

The HR team plays a key role in mediating employee conflicts to prevent escalation. The role may however be challenging to navigate and may fall short of mitigating tensions as intended. AI-powered tools can helpfully assist HR professionals to make better judgments with greater transparency and therefore perceived fairness.

For instance, they can better understand the chronology of events and the underlying causes of parties’ conflicts based on relevant data analytics. Such tools can also increase the degree of objectivity and reduce claims of bias or discrimination. These tools should help to support rather than replace HR’s decision making, considering the nuances of human behaviour.

Conclusion  

Whilst unresolved interpersonal tension can lead to emotional stress, legal claims and reputational damage, effective dispute prevention can empower employees, increase productivity and reduce costs in employment related litigation and compensation claims. Effective workplace dispute prevention with the assistance of AI can contribute to an organisation’s long-term health and performance.


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