Following deep public sector spending cuts, UK government workers who retain their positions face a challenging path that will see them struggling to balance workload with the emotional demands of providing frontline services, according to a new study commissioned by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). The Tough Talk survey of 1,000 people in full-time employment revealed that government workers were three times more likely to find themselves at conflict with customers (43%) than other co-workers (15%).
For nearly half of government workers, the no. 1 reason for challenging conversations was workload (45%), followed by personality (25%), prompting concern about how a slimmed-down public sector would cope with increased citizen engagement. Workload-related conflict was higher in the public sector than the national average, which was 32%, according to the survey results.
Path to resolution obscured by lack of systems for addressing conflict.
The survey also revealed systemic weakness in how conflict is addressed internally, the likely outcomes being lower levels of conflict resolution or dissatisfaction in how conflicts are managed. When asked about areas where public sector organisations need help in the face of conflict, 69% of government workers said, they dont investigate all the facts; 66% said that they (employees) dont get a fair hearing; and nearly three out of four (71%) identified weakness in their organisations ability to have difficult conversations.
The Tough Talk survey was conducted weeks before governments Comprehensive Spending Review and also revealed that nearly eight out of ten (78%) of those surveyed in government positions said too much change and a lack of communication around change contributed to recent increases in conflict.
The impact of the public spending cuts will be felt for many months to come, and it is up to government to provide duty of care to outgoing as well as retained staff, said Karl Mackie, chief executive officer, CEDR. As the coalition government steers the UK into unchartered waters, it must address the inherent conflict that public sector workers feel internally with co-workers, and externally with their constituencies.
Mackie continued: We must encourage local and central government leaders to recognise conflict hotspots and encourage more structured conversations which can reveal more than one path to conflict resolution.
CEDRs work in conflict management, reflected in a new guide, Tough Times, Tough Talk, asserts that a level of comfort with difficult conversations and working knowledge of systems for addressing conflict is a vital skill for survival in the 21st century.