Most employee retention strategies focus on compensation and benefits, working conditions, opportunities for development and progression, and clarity of roles and expectations. While these strategies are effective, employee retention also requires offering an inclusive, respectful, and psychologically safe and healthy environment that employees want to be part of. This requires a workplace culture in which conflict is effectively managed and resolved, yet conflict management and resolution are often overlooked as key elements of a retention strategy.

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable and, managed properly, can be beneficial and even necessary in inclusive and diverse workplaces. When negative conflict is not managed, it often escalates into disputes, causing damage to interpersonal relationships and stress for those involved. The demands of work can stressful, and when the stress of interpersonal conflict is experienced on top of other stressors in an employee’s work life, their psychological safety is threatened. Unresolved conflict, and the incivility and disrespect that often accompany conflict, can negatively impact communication, productivity, morale, as well as employee loyalty and desire to remain in the workplace.

Conflict is often the result of poor communication, and effective communication is essential to managing and resolving conflict and is a crucial component of a psychologically safe and healthy workplace. The absence of effective communication fuels conflict and may cause employees to disengage or leave. Communication is therefore a key component of employee engagement and retention.

Given the potentially damaging impacts of unresolved conflict to the wellbeing of employees, and the need to provide employees with psychological safety in the workplace to retain them, employers must ensure that effective conflict management and resolution is part of their retention strategy. To do so, employers should promote a conflict management and resolution culture by facilitating healthy interactions between employees, and between employees and leaders, by:

• Supporting leaders to make space for healthy debate and diverse voices and ensure they can proactively manage incivility and disrespectful engagement and interactions.

• Educating leaders about the importance of conflict resolution in the workplace.

• Strengthening and supporting healthy, constructive communication.

• Addressing conflict when and where it occurs and preventing escalation and threats to psychological safety.

• Holding leaders accountable for effectively managing conflict.

• Empowering all employees and leaders with conflict management and resolution tools and the skills to implement them effectively.

• Offering a range of resolution options, including early and informal resolution, facilitation, and coaching, in addition to formal options of complaints, investigation, and discipline.

• Supporting restoration of interpersonal relationships, between individuals and within teams.

While employee retention requires a full range of strategies, overlooking conflict management and resolution will undermine other efforts to keep your employees engaged and wanting to remain in your workplace.

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