Handling Conflict Management Essay
Conflict management is a key human resource function in occupational settings. This is particularly important in health care organizations where treatment outcomes often require close collaboration and teamwork between different departments and across different staff hierarchies. This work reviews the context of change management in health care organizations and places conflict resolution as a key function for effective leadership in an ever evolving health and socio economic milieu. Theoretical frameworks from social sciences are briefly discussed to guide conflict resolution as part of change management in health systems.
Conflict is a common phenomenon in occupational settings. Owing to its very nature, medical care requires a high level of application and diligence. High workload and resource constraints often end up in work related stress, manifesting as conflicts at the interpersonal, team or institutional level. (Michie, et al. 2002) Ability to recognize and resolve conflict is indispensible for effective functioning. There is considerable inter-individual variability in responding to work place conflicts. Recognition of the various determinants is often the first step in conflict resolution. (Raykov, et al. 2014)
Workplace dynamics may be affected by a wide range of tangible and non-tangible influences that could affect the working environment, often resulting in conflict situations. These influences may include management practices, degree of employee autonomy, adequate employee recognition, and organization’s commitment to staff welfare and career progression. (Michie, et al. 2002) (Drucker, 1995) Likewise employee empowerment, rationalization of work load, flexibility, avenues for unhindered communication are some of the factors key for job satisfaction and staff retention. Job insecurity is is increasingly becoming an important determinant of work place conflict. (Raykov, et al. 2014)
Michie, et al refer to five different types of determinants of workplace conflict. In a broad sense, these factors relate to the physical work environment, employee roles, organization’s work culture, interpersonal dynamics and avenues for career progression (or the lack of it). (Michie, et al. 2002)
Linkage of organizational change and conflict
Modern health care organizations are complex enterprises that are subject to rapid evolution of organizational structures and dynamics. Changes in financing mechanisms and altered care models, are common examples of contemporary challenges facing health care managers and leaders. By nature, human beings tend to be resistant to externally imposed changes. Notwithstanding the resistance, enforcing changes may be the only means to ensure an organization’s sustainability and relevance. Indeed, change management enables organizations to align its functioning with its vision and goals. As against traditional planning approaches, change management is an integral part of an organization’s development and growth. (Lorenzi & Riley, 2000)
Much of the contemporary change management strategies are based on theoretical frameworks. Some of these are briefly underlined below:
Watzlawick et al. (1974) emphasized two broad ways of bringing about organizational change. Changes in processes (referred to as first-order change) and systemic changes (second-order change). For example, certain needs can be addressed by altering processes and protocols, (e.g., introduction of new documentation procedures), or in some cases it may necessitate major shift in strategy and change in business model. (e.g., adoption of electronic medical records, develop staff capacity or downsizing resources, etc). (Watzlawick, et al. 1974) Often these changes are forced by changing externalities. (e.g., budget cuts). However, any change should be commensurate with the situation and aimed at improving efficiency. Inappropriate changes may cause employees to feel threatened in the face of uncertain circumstances. (Raykov, et al. 2014) (Michie, et al. 2002)
Lewin (1965) articulated the notion of ‘motivation’ as the guiding influence on individual behaviors. Taking cognizance of the motivational factors (at individual or team level) is an essential first step to conflict resolution. By combining theoretical insights from social sciences, leaders can place an individual’s (or group’s) motivation into context and help devise appropriate solutions.
There are several approaches to conflict resolution including, agreement, compromise, trade-offs and, in some cases, disciplinary sanctions.
Nurses in leadership roles have a responsibility to support other staff in the day to day work. With experience, it is often possible to anticipate the potential for conflict. Conflict may arise between nurse leader, subordinate nurses, physician, patients and/or their attendants. Prompt recognition of such situations may help ward off escalation of conflict and minimize damage. The approach to conflict resolution should be guided by the context and gravity of the situation. Indeed, due diligence in managing conflict can help enhance the respect and authority of leaders.
Collaborative approach entails active staff engagement and participation in key decision- making processes. This may help in gaining valuable insights on the work place dynamics and assist in arriving at rational decisions necessary in the larger interests. Collaborative leadership style is particularly suited to health care settings, since it typically involves multidisciplinary collaboration among different departments or specialties.
On the other hand, a dictatorial approach to conflict management may brew resentment, employee apathy, affect team spirit, create an unhealthy working environment and reduce employee productivity.
Work place conflict is a common phenomenon in health care settings in the rapidly evolving health sector. This work discusses the relevance of sociological theories to guide change management processes with an eye to minimize work place conflict. Effective change management strategy involving open communication and collaborative decision making is likely to avert conflict in many situations. However, in situations requiring conflict resolution, appropriate leadership and strategy is quintessential for effective change management and leadership in health care settings.
Drucker PF (1995). Managing in a time of great change. New York: Truman Talley Books/Dutton.
Lorenzi, N M, & Riley, R T (2000). Managing change: An overview. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association : JAMIA; 7(2), 116–124.
Michie S. (2002). Causes and Management of Stress at work. Occupational and Environmental Medicine; 59: 67-72. Web. (Accessed, 30.01.2015).
Raykov M (2014). Employer support for innovative work and employees' job satisfaction and job-related stress. Journal of Occupational Health; 56(4):244-51. Web. (Accessed, 30.01.2015)
Thio, A. (1997). The essence of sociology. In Sociology: A brief introduction (3rd ed., pp. 11-14). New York, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.
Watzlawick P, Weakland JH & Fisch R (1974). Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution. New York: Norton.
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